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Full text of "George Bernard Shaw; his life and works,a critical biography (authorized)"



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GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

HIS LIFE AND WORKS 



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GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

HIS LIFE AND WORKS 



A CRITICAL BIOGRAPHY 

(Authorized) 



By 
ARCHIBALD HENDERSON, M.A., Ph.D. 

Of the University of North Carolina 



With 33 Illustrations, including two Plates in Colour (one from an autochrome 

by Alvin Langdon Coburn, the other from a water-colour by Bernard 

Partridge), two Photogravures (Coburn and Steicheri), 

and numerous facsimiles in the text 



STEWART & KIDD COMPANY 

CINCINNATI 

1911 



b3 4. t 



COPYEIOHT, 1911, 

STEWART & KIDD CO. 



©CLA300933 



AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION 

More than six years ago I conceived the idea of writing a book 
about Bernard Shaw. The magnitude of the undertaking and 
the elusiveness of the subject, had I realized them then in their 
full significance, might well have made me pause. My earliest 
interest in his work, aroused by his thoughtful laughter and 
piqued by his elfish impudence, convinced me that this re- 
markable talent was like no other I had known. 

In characteristic style, Mr. Shaw once gave the following 
fantastic account of the evolution of the present work. A young 
American professor, Shaw explained, wished to write a book 
about him. Originally, he thought of beginning his task by 
writing an article for a daily newspaper. But so rapidly did the 
material grow that he soon saw the necessity of expanding the 
newspaper article into a long essay for a monthly review. When 
the essay was completed, in view of the mass of material in his 
hands, it appeared totally inadequate to express what he really 
wished to say about Bernard Shaw. It then occurred to him to 
write a short book entitled " G. B. S." Alas ! This plan had 
also to be relinquished, for it was now manifest that in no such 
small compass was it possible to do justice to his subject. At 
last he hit upon the brilliant scheme of his final adoption: he 
would write a history of modern thought in twenty volumes. 
After considering the forerunners of his hero in the first nine- 
teen volumes, he would devote the twentieth solely to the 
treatment of George Bernard Shaw. 

Such is the history of the genesis of this book — as narrated 
by Shaw in the well-known Milesian manner. His whimsicalities 
find gay expression in the invention of such fantastic stories, 
which delight his auditors and exasperate only the persons 
concerning whom the invention is concocted. For example, Mr. 
Shaw once laughingly declared that " Henderson began by hail- 
ing me as an infant prodigy, and ended by pronouncing me a 
genius." And he delights in retailing the story of my chiv- 



AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION 

alrously coming to his rescue under the impression that he was 
an unknown and struggling dramatist who sorely needed, and 
greatly deserved, enthusiastic championship. 

The real history of this biography, if not so interesting or 
amusing, at least possesses the merit of greater accuracy. I 
was first drawn to Shaw, not because he was a Socialist, a pub- 
licist, an economist. I was concerned with neither his fame nor 
his obscurity. I had seen his plays produced in America, had 
followed the ups and downs of his career as a dramatist, and 
was marking the rise of his star successively in Austria and 
Germany. The Shaw who caught and held my interest was the 
dramatist of a new type. I planned writing a brief study of 
Bernard Shaw and his plays less comprehensive in scope even 
than the subsequent studies of Holbrook Jackson, Gilbert Ches- 
terton and Julius Bab. Mr. Shaw furnished me with a brief 
outline of his career and I set to work. After studying his works 
for some months, I sent a series of queries to Mr. Shaw. Fear 
fell upon me when, some time later, I received from him a card 
saying that he had only come to the forty-first page of his 
reply ; and he assured me that if this business was to come off, 
it might as well be done thoroughly. Fear was turned to con- 
sternation when the big budget finally arrived. " I knew that 
you thought you were dealing simply with a new dramatist," 
wrote Mr. Shaw, " whereas, to myself, all the fuss about Can- 
dida was only a remote ripple from the splashes I made in the 
days of my warfare long ago. I do not think what you propose 
is important as my biography, but a thorough biography of 
any man who is up to the chin in the life of his time as I have 
been is worth writing as a historical document ; and, therefore, 
if you still care to face it, I am willing to give you what help 
I can. Indeed, you can force my hand to some extent, for 
any story that you start will pursue me to all eternity ; and if 
there is to be a biography, it is worth my while to make it as 
accurate as possible." 

In this way my original plan was developed and expanded. 
Mr. Shaw's abundant sympathy and encouragement; the over- 
flowing measure of material afforded me ; the insight into a life 
and a period of tremendous significance and vitality; all these 

vi 



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Facsimile of page 54 of a letter from Bernard Shaw to the biographer, of date January 17th, 1905. 



AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION 

combined to offer an opportunity not to be neglected. My 
interest in the subject deepened with my knowledge. It became 
my aim to write — not a Rougon-Macquart history of modern 
thought in twenty volumes — but an account of the movements 
of a most interesting period, the last quarter of the nineteenth 
and the opening decade of the twentieth centuries, a propos of 
Bernard Shaw. As the work progressed, Shaw warned me — 
and the reporters — that in attempting his biography I had un- 
dertaken a " terrific task," an opinion endorsed by others. I 
remember one day being introduced to Mr. Bram Stoker as 
Bernard Shaw's biographer; whereupon he remarked with 
genuine feeling in his tone : " I can only say that you have my 
prof oundest sympathy ! " Soon after I had fairly embarked 
upon the undertaking, in fact, Shaw pointed out to me its 
magnitude. " I want you to do something that will be useful 
to yourself and to the world," he wrote in February, 1905 ; " and 
that is, to make me a mere peg on which to hang a study of the 
last quarter of the nineteenth century, especially as to the col- 
lectivist movement in politics, ethics and sociology; the Ibsen- 
Nietzschean movement in morals; the reaction against the ma- 
terialism of Marx and Darwin; the Wagnerian movement in 
music; and the anti-romantic movement (including what people 
call realism, materialism and impressionism) in literature and 
art." 

During the progress of the work I beheld Shaw conquer Amer- 
ica, then Germany, then England, and, lastly, the Scandinavian 
countries and Continental Europe. I realized that my subject, 
beginning as a somewhat obscure Irish author, had thrown off 
the garb of submerged renown, taken the public by storm, and 
become the most universally popular living dramatist, and the 
most frequently paragraphed man in the world. No British 
dramatist — not even Shakespeare ! — had conquered the world 
during his lifetime; yet Shaw, just past fifty, had succeeded in 
turning this cosmic trick. Clippings, pictures, journals and 
books poured in upon me from every quarter of the globe. I 
discovered that Shaw was a man with a past as well as a genius 
with a future, and I realized the truth of his cryptic boast that 
he had lived for three centuries. 

vii 



AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION 

Now and then, to relieve the burden of my thoughts, I would 
write an essay for some German, French, or American review. 
But I only met with base ingratitude from the subject of the 
essay. " Your articles have been a most fearful curse to me," 
Mr. Shaw wrote me on one occasion, after the appearance of an 
article in which I had referred to his unobtrusive philanthropy. 
" For instance, the day before yesterday I got a typical letter. 
The writer has nine children ; has lost his wife suddenly, and was 
on the point of shooting himself in desperation for want of 
fifteen pounds to get him out of his difficulties, when he hap- 
pened to come on a copy of your article. He instantly felt that 
here was the man to give him the fifteen pounds and save his 
life. He is only one out of a dozen who have had the same 
idea. I shall refer them all to you with assurances that you 
have read your own character into mine, and are a man with 
a feeling heart, a full pocket, and a ready hand to give to the 
afflicted." 

When the book was well under way, I came to Engand, at 
Mr. Shaw's invitation, to " study my subject." My views of 
his work and genius remained fundamentally the same, though 
the personal contact with one of the most vivid and remarkable 
personalities of our time, quite naturally brought about some 
marked modifications of my more remote impressions, and cor- 
rected some of the minor misunderstandings which are inevitable 
in the absence of a personal acquaintance. Many passages in 
his works, many phases of his personality, hitherto obscure or 
incomprehensible, became clear to me. I learned the meaning 
of his plays, the purport of his philosophy, and the objects of 
his life not from my viewpoint alone, but from his own. In 
the quiet of Ayot, we read and discussed together the portion of 
the biography then written. With frequent criticism and com- 
ment Mr. Shaw helped me to a new and larger comprehension 
of his life and work. 

On my return to America I once more approached my task — 
this time with the illumination of personality, and with the deeper 
knowledge of his own interpretation of his life and works, even 
though Mr. Shaw's views might not, and often did not, entirely 

viii 




SHAW AND THE BIOGRAPHER. 
Ayot St. Lawrence. Hertfordshire. July. 1907. 
From a photograph taken by Mrs. Bernard Shaw. 



[Facing p. x. 



AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION 

tally with my own. The biography was now written finally, from 
the first chapter to the last. 

One who has pursued the errant course of a Will-o'-the-wisp 
may understand somewhat of my effort to follow the devious 
route of G. B. S. With interest, though I confess at times 
with dwindling patience, I have followed the lure of that occa- 
sionally somewhat impishly un-kindly light, " o'er moor and fen, 
o'er crag and torrent," till after the fashion of his kind, he 
abandoned me, wayfaring, on the brink of the abyss to save 
my neck as best I might. Which things are a parable. 

Characteristically, and, it must be admitted, in a sense justly, 
he remarks that a biography of a living man cannot be finished 
till he is dead, or words to that effect. But the chances there 
are against the Biographer as well as the Biographed; and I 
have no fancy, I confess, that the book should be, as he once 
maliciously prophesied, " a posthumous work for both of us," 
nor that he should be justified in his presentiment that we 
should " both die the moment we finished it." 

While nothing but death can fitly end a man's life, being no 
Boswell, and having my own life to attend to as well as his, I 
have brought these " twenty volumes " to a close. A man who 
has already, by his own account, " lived three centuries," is as 
likely to live three more; but it is less probable that I shall see 
the end of them. So I take Time by the forelock and write 
•finis to a contribution which can only hope to cover the first 
three centuries. 

" Who is to tackle Mr. Bernard Shaw," Mr. Augustine Birrell 
once asked, " and assign to him his proper place in the provi- 
dential order of the world?" This work is in no sense an 
effort to assign to Bernard Shaw his " proper place in the provi- 
dential order of the world." Such a task it is impossible to 
accomplish so long as Shaw lives to belie it. No more is it 
possible to say the final word about any genius in mid-career 
with limitless possibilities before him. Shaw's masterpiece — 
even a series of masterpieces ! — perhaps remains to be written. 
His career may have only just begun. 

This book is designed to give an authoritative account, bio- 
graphical and critical, of Bernard Shaw's work, art, philosophy 

ix 



AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION 

and life up to the present time. Perhaps its appearance is not 
premature. Shaw has suffered no little from the Shavians. He 
has served more than once as an excuse for propaganda and 
counter-propaganda. But save for one or two glaring excep- 
tions, the fatuities of the cult, and the image of the shrine and 
burning candles have in large measure vanished — it is hoped, to 
return no more. The time seems ripe for conscientious and 
thoughtful consideration of the man and his work, in relation 
to the thought movement of our time — irrespective of political 
bias and personal prejudice. Perhaps the portrait, though 
neither " disparaging " nor " unflattering," may present the 
" real Shaw," if more " unexpectedly," perhaps no less truly, 
in that I am " a stranger to the Irish-British environment." 

If I have succeeded in removing a legendary figure from the 
atmosphere of contemporary mythology, and in portraying the 
real man in the light of common day, then an earnest search for 
the aurea media of true criticism will not have proved wholly 
fruitless. I hope I may have succeeded, in some adequate de- 
gree, in exhibiting, in their true colours, what Mr. Gilbert Ches- 
terton once justly described to me in a letter as " that humour 
and that courage which have cleansed so much of the intellect 
of to-day." 



PREFACE 

I have neither space nor words to express, in full measure, 
my gratitude and indebtedness to the many friends, critics, 
scholars and men of letters who have aided me in the preparation 
of this work. First of all I wish to thank Mr. Shaw himself for 
his assistance. The voluminous correspondence filled with criti- 
cism, exposition and reminiscence; the immense trouble taken 
in placing ample materials at my disposal; the personal assist- 
ance in detailed discussion of the work — will have made this 
work possible. For the views expressed in this biography Mr. 
Shaw is in no sense responsible. On many points we are in 
hearty disagreement. At this place, I take pleasure in express- 
ing my indebtedness to Mrs. Shaw, for kind assistance and 
helpful suggestions. 

Valuable assistance, especially in connection with the earlier 
stages of Shaw's career as a dramatist, was derived from Mr. 
William Archer's collection of Shaviana, which he freely and 
most generously placed at my disposal. The chapter on Shaw 
as a critic of music I could not have written without the articles 
lent me by Mr. Archer. I am likewise greatly indebted to 
Mr. Holbrook Jackson, who gave me free access to his collection 
of Shaviana, and lent me valuable material hitherto unknown to 
me, or inaccessible. During the entire course of the preparation 
of the present work, I have received the counsel and aid of that 
scholarly student of the drama, Mr. James Piatt White, of 
Buffalo, New York, who freely placed the services of himself 
and his fine library of dramatic literature at my disposal. 

To certain able students of Shaw's work, some of them not 
known to me personally, and also to a few personal friends, I 
am also especially indebted. To Mr. John Corbin, Professor 
William Lyon Phelps and Professor E. E. Hale, Jr., in 
connection with the chapters treating of the plays ; to Mr. James 
Huneker, in connection with the chapter treating of Shaw as a 

xi 



PREFACE 

critic of music ; to the late Mr. Samuel L. Clemens and to Dr. 

C. Alphonso Smith in connection with other critical and bio- 
graphical chapters — for reading these portions of the work, for 
helpful criticism in some instances, for the loan of material in 
others, to all my thanks are gratefully accorded. Needless to 
say, they are in no wise responsible for any faults or errors of 
mine. In various ways, in lesser degree, I am indebted to Miss 
Sally Fair child, Mr. Henry George, Jr., Mr. J. T. Grein and 
Mr. Austin Lewis. 

Of foreign critics, I wish especially to thank M. Augustin 
Hamon, the French translator of Shaw's works, for his inter- 
esting suggestions, his numerous acts of kindness, and for the 
rich mass of documents embodying the continental criticism of 
Shaw with which he has kept me supplied ; and Herr Siegfried 
Trebitsch, of Vienna, the German translator of Shaw's works, 
for detailed information in regard to Shaw's position and recog- 
nition in German Europe. I cannot permit myself to omit from 
the list of those to whom I am especially indebted the names 
of M. Jean Blum, formerly Professor at the Lycee, Oran, Al- 
geria ; Herr Heinrich Stiimcke, editor of Biihne unci Welt; Pro- 
fessor Paul Haensel, of the University of Moscow; Dr. Julius 
Brouta, of Madrid, the Spanish translator of Shaw's works ; 
Herr Hugo Vallentin, the Swedish translator of Shaw's works ; 
Mr. J. M. Borup, the Danish translator of Shaw's works ; Baron 
Reinhold von Willebrand, editor of the Finsk Tidskrift, Helsing- 
fors, Finland; M. Auguste Filon, now resident in England, I 
believe; and Dr. Georg Brandes, of Copenhagen. In the text 
of the present work, or in footnotes, I trust I have not failed 
to express my indebtedness to everyone, not heretofore men- 
tioned, who, in one way or another, has aided me in the present 
work. I should, however, like to acknowledge here my indebted- 
ness to the officials of the Library of Congress, Washington, 

D. C, of the British Museum, and of the Cambridge University 
Library, for their unfailing courtesy and helpfulness. 

I have taken the utmost pains to include among the illustra- 
tions the most notable representations ever made of Shaw — 
sculpture, portrait, photograph and cartoon. Moreover, the 
thought of presenting Shaw to the eye in the most character- 

xii 



PREFACE 

istic and representative way, as he appeared at various stages 
in his career, has been constantly borne in mind. My thanks 
are now expressed to M. Auguste Rodin for permission to repro- 
duce a photograph of his bronze bust of Shaw, the marble 
replica of which, presented by Mr. Shaw, now stands in the 
Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin; to Prince Paul 
Troubetzkoy, Paris, for a photograph of his remarkable plaster 
bust of Shaw, said to have been made in forty minutes ; to the 
Hon. Neville S. Lytton, for permission to reproduce his unique 
portrait of Mr. Shaw, after the Innocent X. of Velasquez; to 
Mr. Bernard Partridge for the loan of his admirable water- 
colour of Shaw; to Miss Jessie Holliday for the loan of her 
striking water-colour of Shaw, her photo-drawing of Mr. Webb, 
and her sketch of Mr. Archer ; to Mr. Max Beerbohm and Mr. 
E. T. Reed for permission to reproduce cartoons of Shaw; to 
Mr. H. G. Wells for permission to reproduce his drawing of 
six Socialists; to Mr. Joseph Simpson, the artist, and Mr. J. 
Murray Allison, the owner, for the loan of a black-and-white 
wash drawing — all the best of their kind. I was so fortunate 
as to enlist the interest and co-operation of those two great 
American artist-photographers, Alvin Langdon Coburn (Lon- 
don) and Eduard J. Steichen (Paris). Notable portraits and 
pictures were taken by them especially for this work — one 
Lumiere autochrome and four monochromes by Mr. Coburn, and 
two monochromes by Mr. Steichen. For permission to photo- 
graph the first and last pages of the original manuscript of 
Love Among the Artists — and also for supplying me with 
much other valuable material — I am indebted to Mr. D. J. Rider. 
I wish to express my thanks to Dr. M. L. Ettinghausen, of 
Munich, who secured for me many playbills of the productions 
of Shaw's plays in German Europe. I wish to express my 
thanks also to Mr. Roger Ingpen, for his assistance in the 
matter of illustrations. My thanks are likewise extended to 
the proprietors of Punch and Vanity Fair for permission to 
reproduce certain cartoons which originally appeared in those 
publications. In especial, I wish to thank Mrs. Shaw for her 
intelligent aid in the selection of likenesses of Mr. Shaw from 
his own large collection. 

xiii 



PREFACE 

In accordance with the original plan for the biography of 
Mr. Shaw, the present volume was to contain an appendix* 
treating chronologically and critically of the production of 
Shaw's plays throughout the world, from the inception of his 
career as a dramatist. It has proved advisable to publish this 
appendix later in a separate, souvenir volume, embodying the 
history of the dramatic movement inaugurated by Bernard 
Shaw. Consequently, the chapters in the present volume deal- 
ing with Shaw's plays are concerned primarily with critical 
discussion of the genesis and art of the plays, touching upon 
their production only in the most casual and adventitious way. 

Mr. Shaw is fond of saying : " I am a typical Irishman ; my 
family came from Hampshire." His lineal ancestor, Captain 
William Shaw, was of Scotch descent; lived in Hampshire, 
England; and in 1689 went to Ireland, where the family has 
since lived. The strains in Mr. Shaw's ancestry are so compli- 
cated and interwoven, that it has seemed important to publish 
a genealogical chart of the Shaw family. The researches were 
conducted by the expert genealogist, Rev. W. Ball Wright, 
M.A., Osbaldwick Vicarage, York, at the instance and under the 
direction of Mr. Shaw himself. The chart, compiled from the 
data of Mr. Wright, was prepared by the experts of the 
Grafton Genealogical Press, New York. 



To my wife, for her untiring assistance and inestimably 
valuable criticism, I cannot cancel my debt of gratitude by 
any expressions, however eloquent. I could not have written 
this book without her aid. It is to her intellectual directness 
and to her genius for suggestive criticism, that the present 
volume owes very much of whatever merit it may possess. 

Archibald Henderson. 
Cambridge, England. 
November 30th, 1910. 



xiv 



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION 

The association of America and Bernard Shaw connotes, at 
the first glance, incongruity if not mutual antipathy. There 
is at once a suggestion of conflict between the most individual- 
istic personality of the day and the most individualistic nation 
of the world. One of America's deplorable, if amiable, weak- 
nesses is the predilection for inviting estimates of herself from 
supercilious people who know nothing about her. And one of 
Shaw's amusing idiosyncracies is his fancy for discoursing 
freely upon subjects of which he is pathetically ignorant. Bull- 
baiting is his daily pastime ; but now and then he eagerly yields 
to the tempting invitation to take a new fling at America. So 
from time to time we have the diverting spectacle of a remarka- 
bly clever and shrewd Irishman making quaintly stupid and 
delightfully inapposite strictures upon a country he has never 
visited and upon a people among whom he has never lived or 
even sojourned. 

Imagine a Martian making his first studies of the United 
States through the sole intermediary of the writings and dis^ 
courses of Mr. Bernard Shaw. What a lurid and shocking pic- 
ture would be presented to his view! The United States, thus 
portrayed, is a " nation of villagers," suburban in instinct and 
parochial in moral judgments, " overridden with old-fashioned 
creeds and a capitalistic religion." The Americans are an " ap- 
palling, horrible, narrow lot," and America is a " land of 
unthinking, bigoted persecution." The American woman is 
attractive, beautiful, and well-dressed — but has no soul. The 
American man is a machine of voluble activity without pro- 
gressive impetus, whose single aim is the acquisition of wealth. 
America is a semi-barbaric country, incessantly shocking the 
world with its crass exposures of political corruption and in- 
dustrial brigandage, murders, manslaughters, and lynchings, 
peonage, sweat-shops, child-labor, and white slavery. It is fifty 
years behind England, and a hundred years behind Europe, in 

xv 



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION 

art, literature, science, religion, and government — in a word, 
in civilization. 

This lurid chromo, painted in crude and primary colors, is 
clearly the Shavian reflection of English press-opinion of Amer- 
ica and the Americans — if it is not one of Mr. Shaw's most 
successful comic fictions. In whatever proportion jest and 
earnest may be commingled in such a comic fiction, certainly it 
is disappointing to find a man who has often proven himself 
an exceedingly clear-sighted observer and astute thinker with 
respect to subjects upon which he is fully informed, betray so 
pathetic an ignorance of the realities of American life. Mr. 
Shaw has been content to acquire his notions concerning America 
at second hand, and often at third and fourth — a method of 
acquiring information which is to be recommended for ease 
rather than for accuracy. 

The English newspaper is, actually, a standing menace to per- 
fectly equable relations between England and America. There 
is a yellowness of sensationalism, and there is a yellowness of 
deliberate misrepresentation. There is a deeper, more subtle 
inaccuracy than that which inheres in the distortion of facts; 
it is the inaccuracy which inheres in the suppression of facts; 
The picture of America daily presented to English eyes through 
the medium of the English press is a caricature — a broad, crude 
caricature. It is so flagrant as to lead to the lurid chromo of 
America achieved by Mr. Shaw. The English visitor to the 
United States, who gets no further than the hotels of the great 
cities and the rear platform of an observation car, catches only 
the most superficial of impressions — chiefly of the hurried 
metropolitan search for wealth and of the natural, still almost 
primitive, wildness of the landscape. England means censorious- 
ness; and English curiosity and inquisitiveness are more than 
often misguided — searching into and accentuating those phases 
of American life and character which are most open to adverse 
criticism, and overlooking or ignoring those indicative features 
and attributes which are most suggestive in their utility and 
value. 

In reality, England and America have much to learn from 
each other that will be mutually helpful and beneficial. That 
spirit of generosity which characterizes America in her relations 

xvi 



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION 

to all the world is the significant deficiency in the English 
national character. America is the supreme exemplar of inter- 
nationalism. America is open-mindedness, enterprise, acquisi- 
tiveness. England, as instanced most signally in her splendid 
public institutions, is unsparingly generous — liberally sharing 
her treasures with all the rest of the world. But she is deplora- 
bly retrograde, as a nation, through declining to utilize the best 
that is to be found in other nationalities and other civilizations. 
It is, perhaps, sometimes more generous to receive than to give. 
England austerely plays the role of model to other nations; 
but she cannot abide to " sit at the feet of wisdom," to appro- 
priate for her own advancement the good and the useful in 
others, whosoever those others may be. England's besetting sin 
of national vanity is the canker in the flower of her civilization, 
the ominous source of her progressive relinquishment of interna- 
tional supremacy. 

On the other hand, America has much to learn from England, 
and from that phase of English spirit signally exemplified in 
the person of Bernard Shaw. For if he is anything, Shaw is 
a free thinker — in the original and entirely uncorrupted mean- 
ing of that term. His is that boundless naivete so fertile for 
truth's own discovery. Not only is he free thinker : he is equally 
free writer and free speaker. He says exactly what he thinks — 
and a good deal more. He coats the pill of the satirist with 
the sugar of the artist; his wit stands sponsor for his irreve- 
rence. In Nietzschean phrase, Shaw is a " good European." He 
is fully abreast of the most advanced thought of Europe, and 
consistently maintains relations with the latest developments in 
the fine arts, philosophy, and sociology. For many years, he has 
served as a channel for the influx into English-speaking coun- 
tries of the streams of European consciousness. As an original 
thinker, Shaw has independently arrived at many conclusions 
which have been more rigorously elaborated by numerous modern 
thinkers, from Stirner, Nietzsche and Ibsen to Maeterlinck, 
Bergson and James. As the literary popularizer of contem- 
porary philosophic ideas, Bernard Shaw is one of the heralds of 
that steadily evolving spirit of cosmopolitan culture which bids 
fair to give the intellectual note of the twentieth century. 

In this hour of America's great national resurgence in tht 

xvii 



PREFACE TO THE AMERICAN EDITION 

effort to purge the body politic of glaring social evils, it is 
helpful to study Bernard Shaw and to discover that his most 
distinctive and noteworthy service as a public character has been 
his splendid struggle for the inculcation of the highest ideals 
of unselfish public service. England far surpasses America in 
the relative amount of public service rendered by individuals 
and public organizations in behalf of the general welfare, with- 
out remuneration or the hope of remuneration. " I am of the 
opinion that my life belongs to the whole community," Bernard 
Shaw has finely declared, " and as long as I live it is my privi- 
lege to do for it whatsoever I can." Only when individual 
leaders of opinion in America, of which there is now no dearth, 
are supported everywhere by an awakened public conscience and 
a universally functioning spirit of individual responsibility, shall 
we secure throughout our country, from hamlet to metropolis, 
the much desiderated remedy for social abuse and the progressive 
perfecting of popular government. 

Aechibald Henderson. 
Salisbury, N. C, September 4, 1911. 



xvm 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

Author's Introduction v 

Preface xi 

Preface to the American Edition xv 

I. — Dublin Days 3 

II. — London . 31 

III. — The Novelist 59 

IV.— The Fabian Society 89 

V. — The Cart and Trumpet 121 

VI. — Shavian Socialism 151 

VII.— The Art Critic 195 

VIII— The Music Critic 231 

IX.— The Dramatic Critic 261 

X. — The Playwright — I 293 

XI. — The Playwright — II 335 

XII.— The Playwright— III 363 

^XIIL— The Technician 409 

VXIV.— The Dramatist 431 

XV. — Artist and Philosopher . . . . .453 

XVI.— The Man 491 

Appendix. — A Genealogy of the Shaw Family. 



xix 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

COVER DESIGN 



<.---- 



IX* 



A Satyric Mask. From an original in the Department of Greek 
and Roman Antiquities, British Museum. 

COLOURED PLATES 
George Bernard Shaw. Xumiere autochrome, by Alvin 

Langdon Cobum Frontispiece 

Ahenobarbus at Rehearsal. Water-colour of G. B. Shaw, 

by J. Bernard Partridge .... facing p. 246 

PHOTOGRAVURE PLATES 
George Bernard Shaw. " The Diabolonian." Monochrome 

by Eduard J. Steichen facing p. 80 

George Bernard Shaw. "The Philosopher." Monochrome 

by Alvin Langdon Cobum . . . . facing p. 468 

OTHER ILLUSTRATIONS 
Shaw and the biographer. Photo by Mrs. Bernard Shaw 

facing p. viii 

Lucinda Elizabeth Shaw, George Carr Shaw, etc. " 18 

Shaw at the age of twenty-three " 46 w 

Sidney Webb " 92" 

Henry George " 96 

Karl Marx " 96 

Cover of Fabian Tract, No. 2 .... p. 103 

The Socialist (George Bernard Shaw in 1891) . facing p. 116 v 

The Cart and Trumpet " 144 

A Study of Six Socialists " 164 v 

Cover design of Fabian Essays, 1890. By Walter Crane p. 179 

Fitzroy Square, London facing p. 196 

William Morris " 211 ' 

George Bernard Shaw. A Cartoon. By Max 

Beerbohm . . . . . " 232 

Pope Innocent X " 262 

The Modern Pope of Wit and Wisdom. By Neville 

S. Lytton " 262 

John Bull's other Playwright. A Cartoon. By E. 

T. Reed " 270 

xxi 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

William Archer. By Jessie Holliday . . . facing p. 
Bernard Shaw. Black-and-white wash sketch by 

Joseph Simpson ......" 

In Consultation (G. B. S. and the author). By J§. 

J. Steichen " 

H. Granville Barker. By A. L. Coburn . . " 
Shaw's House at Ayot St. Lawrence ..." 
George Bernard Shaw. Photo by Histed . . " 
Shaw's present home in London (10, Adelphi Terrace) " 
A plaster bust of Shaw. By Troubetzkoy . . " 
G. B. S. (A Cartoon). By Joseph Simpson . . p. 



A bust of Shaw. By Rodin 
A Prophet, the Press, and Some People. 
water-colour by Jessie Holliday 



. facing p. 



From a 



276 

294 / 

336 

372' 

422 

436 

446 

480 

497 

500 v 

506 



FACSIMILES 



MANUSCRIPTS 

A page of a letter from Bernard Shaw to the 

biographer facing p. vi 

The first and last pages of original MS. of Love 

Among the Artists . . . . . pp. 65-66 



/ 



PLAYBILLS, ETC. 

Sunday Afternoon Lectures. March, 1886 

The Philanderer. Berlin 

Mrs. Warren's Profession. Munich . 

Arms and the Man. London. First performance 

You Never Can Tell. Stockholm 

The Man of Destiny. Frankfort 

Candida. Paris 

Candida, Brussels 

Man and Superman. New York 

Candida. New York 

The Doctor's Dilemma. Cologne 

Arms and the Man. Frankfort 

Press Cuttings. London 



PAGE 

126 
301 
301 
311 
S26 
326 
349 
352 
365 
379 
395 
395 
403 






A Genealogical Chart 



facing p. 514 



xxn 



DUBLIN DAYS 



"If religion is that which binds men to one another, and irreligiori that 
which sunders, then must I testify that I found the religion of my country 
in its musical genius and its irreligion in its churches and drawing-rooms." 
— Ir\ the Days of My Youth. By Bernard Shaw. Mainly About People, 
1898. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW: 

HIS LIFE AND WORKS 

CHAPTER I 

IT is a circumstance of no little significance that Bernard Shaw 
and Oscar Wilde, two dramatists whose plays have achieved 
so notable a success on the European stage, should both have 
been born in Dublin within two years of one another. It has 
been the good fortune of no other living British or Irish 
dramatist of our day to receive the enthusiastic acclaim of the 
most cultured public of continental Europe. What more fitting 
and natural than this sustention, by the countrymen of Swift 
and Sheridan, of the Celtic reputation for brilliancy, clever- 
ness and wit? 

George Bernard Shaw was born on July 26th, 1856 — well- 
nigh a century later than his countryman and fellow-townsman, 
Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Only one year before, in 1855, 
was born Shaw's sole rival to the place of the foremost living 
dramatist of the United Kingdom, Arthur Wing Pinero. It 
is an interesting coincidence that the year which saw the demise 
of that " first man of his century," Heinrich Heine, also wit- 
nessed the birth of the brilliant and original spirit who is, in 
some sense, his natural and logical successor: Bernard Shaw. 
There is some suggestion of the workings of that wonderful law 
of compensation, which Emerson preached with such high seri- 
ousness, in this synchronous relation of birth and death, con- 
necting Heine and Shaw. The circumstance might be said to 
proclaim the unbroken continuity of the comic spirit. 

Bernard Shaw possesses the unique faculty of befuddling the 
brains of more sane writers than any other living man. The 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

critic of conventional view-point is dismayed by the discovery 
that Shaw is bound by no conventions whatever, with the 
possible exception of the mechanical conventions of the stage. 
Shaw is essentially an intellectual, not an emotional, talent; 
the critic of large imaginative sympathy discovers in him one 
who on occasion disclaims the possession of imagination. Unlike 
the idealist critic, Shaw is never a hero-worshipper: he derides 
heroism and makes game of humanity. To the analytic critic, 
with his schools, his classifications, his labellings, Shaw is the 
elusive and unanalyzable quantity — a fantastic original, a talent 
wholly sui generis. With all his realism, he cannot be called the 
exponent of a school. It would be nearer the truth to say that 
he is himself a school. 

It is futile to attempt to measure Shaw with the foot-rule of 
prejudice or convention. Only by placing oneself exactly at 
his peculiar point of view and recording the impressions received 
without prejudice, preference or caricature, can one ever hope 
to fathom the mystery of this disquieting intelligence. Most 
mocking when most serious, most fantastic when most earnest; 
his every word belies his intent. The antipode to the farcicality 
of pompous dulness, his gravity is that of the masquerader in 
motley, the mordant humour of the licensed fool. Contradiction 
between manner and meaning, between method and essence, con- 
stitutes the real secret of his career. The truly noteworthy 
consideration is not that Shaw -is incorrigibly fantastic and 
frivolous ; the alarming fact is that he is remarkably consistent 
and profoundly in earnest. The willingness of the public to 
accept the artist at his face value blinds its eyes to the profound, 
almost grim, seriousness of the man. The great solid and 
central fact of his life is that he has used the artistic mask of 
humour to conceal the unswerving purpose of the humanitarian / 
and social reformer. The story of the career of George Bernard * 
Shaw, in whom is found the almost unprecedented combination 
of the most brilliantly whimsical humour with the most serious 
and vital purpose, has already, even in our time, taken on 
somewhat of the character of a legend. It might become a fairy 
story, in very fact, if we did not finally determine to relate it, 
to associate it in printed form with the life of our time. 

4 




DUBLIN DAYS 

How to write the biography of so complex a nature? The 
greatest living English dramatic critic once confessed that he 
never approached a more difficult task than that of interpretation 
of Shaw's plays. One of Shaw's most intimate friends once 
suggested that the title of his biography would probably be 
" The Court Jester who was Hanged." 

A few years ago, in discussing with me the plan of his 
biography, Mr. Shaw suggested for it the euphonious if jour- 
nalistic title — G. B. S. Biography and Autobiography. Though 
the book as a whole is not developed along the lines originally 
suggested sufficiently to render that title truly applicable, for 
this first chapter surely none could be more suitable. These 
" Dublin Days " have been reproduced by Shaw with much 
amplitude, and more or less precision ; so that, accepting Shaw's 
definition of Autobiography and mine of Biography, the result 
will be a narrative of much falsehood and perhaps a little truth. 

" All autobiographies are lies," is Shaw's fundamental thesis. 
" I do not mean unconscious, unintentional lies : I mean delib- 
erate lies. No man is bad enough to tell the truth about himself 
during his lifetime, involving, as it must, the truth about his 
family and friends and colleagues. And no man is good enough 
to tell the truth in a document which he suppresses until there 
is nobody left alive to contradict him." The true, the real auto- 
biography will never be written ; no man, no woman — Rousseau, 
Marie Bashkirtseff? — ever dared to write it. Were one to 
attempt to write the book entitled, M y Heart Laid Bare, as 
Poe says somewhere in his Margmalia, " the paper would shrivel 
and blaze at every touch of the fiery pen." Shaw once " tried 
the experiment, within certain limits, of being candidly autobio- 
graphical." He produced no permanent impression, because 
nobody ever believed him; but the extent to which he stood 
compromised with his relations may well be imagined. His few 
confidential reminiscences won him the reputation of being the 
" most reckless liar in London " ; they reeked too strongly of 
the diabolism mentioned by Poe. And yet we must accept 
Shaw's comically irreverent autobiographical details, in view of 
his assertion that they are attempts at genuine autobiography. 

In the autobiographical accounts of his youth and early life, 

5 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

as well as in many conversations on the subject with Mr. Shaw, 
I have discovered ample explanation of his scepticism concern- 
ing the binding ties of blood, of the strangely unsympathetic, 
even hostile, relations between parents and children displayed 
throughout his entire work. These autobiographical accounts 
reveal on his part less filial affection than a sort of comic dis- 
respect for the mistakes, faults and frailties of his parents and 
relatives. 

Mr. Shaw's grandfather was a Dublin notary and stockbroker, 
who left a large family unprovided for at his death. George 
Carr Shaw, his son and Bernard Shaw's father, was an Irish 
Protestant gentleman; his rank — a very damnable one in his 
son's eyes — was that of a poor relation of that particular grade 
of the haute bourgeoisie which makes strenuous social preten- 
sions. He had no money, it seems, no education, no profession, 
no manual skill, no qualification of any sort for any definite 
social function. Moreover, he had been brought up " to believe 
that there was an inborn virtue of gentility in all Shaws, since 
they revolved impecuniously in a sort of vague second cousinship 
round a baronetcy." His people, who were prolific and 
numerous, always spoke of themselves as " the Shaws " with an 
intense sense of their own importance — as one would speak of the 
Hohenzollerns or the Romanoffs. An amiable, but timid man, 
the father's worst faults were inefficiency and hypocrisy. His 
son could only say of him that he might have been a weaker 
brother of Charles Lamb. Proclaiming, and half believing, 
himself a teetotaller, he was in practice often a furtive drinker. 
The one trait of his which was reproduced in his son, his 
antithesis in almost every other respect, was a sense of humour, 
an appreciation of the comic force of anti-climax. " When I 
was a child, he gave me my first dip in the sea in Killiney Bay," 
writes his son. " He prefaced it by a very serious exhortation 
on the importance of learning to swim, culminating in these 
words : ' When I was a boy of only f ourteeen, my knowledge of 
swimming enabled me to save your Uncle Robert's life.' Then, 
seeing that I was deeply impressed, he stooped, and added con- 
fidentially in my ear: ' And, to tell the truth, I never was so sorry 
for anything in my life afterwards.' He then plunged into the 

6 






DUBLIN DAYS 



ocean, enjoyed a thoroughly refreshing swim, and chuckled all 
the way home." 

All the Shaws, because of that remote baronetcy, Mr. Shaw 
once gravely assured me, considered it the first duty of a respect- 
able Government to provide them with sinecures. After holding 
a couple of clerkships, Shaw's father, by some means, finally 
asserted his family claim on the State with sufficient success to 
attain a post in the Four Courts — the Dublin Courts of Justice. 
This post in the Civil Service must have been a gross sinecure, 
for by 1850 it was abolished, and he was pensioned off. He then 
sold his small pension and went into business as a wholesale 
dealer in corn, a business of which he had not the slightest 
knowledge. " I cannot begin, like Ruskin, by saying that my 
father was an entirely honest merchant," said his son in one of 
his autobiographical confidences. " I don't know whether he 
was or not ; I do know that he was an entirely unsuccessful one." 
In addition to a warehouse and office in the city, he had a flour 
mill at a place called Dolphin's Barn, a few miles out. This 
mill, attached to the business as a matter of ceremony, perhaps 
paid its own rent, since the machinery was generally in motion. 
But its chief use, according to Bernard Shaw, " was to amuse 
me and my boon companions, the sons of my father's partner." 

When he was about forty years of age, Shaw's father married 
Lucinda Elizabeth Gurly, the daughter of a country gentleman. 
Students in eugenics might find in their disparity in age — a dif- 
ference of twenty years— some explanation of the singular quali- 
ties and unique genius of their son. The estate in Carlow, now 
owned by Mr. Shaw, descended to him from his maternal grand- 
father, Walter Bagnal Gurly, through his mother's brother. 
Miss Gurly was brought up with extreme severity by her ma- 
ternal aunt, Ellen Whitcroft, a sweet-faced lady, with a 
deformed back and a ruthless will, who gave her niece the most 
rigorous training, with the intention of subsequently leaving her 
a fortune. The result of this course of education upon Miss 
Gurly was ignorance alike of the value of money and of the 
world; her marriage, hastily contracted when her home was 
made uncomfortable for her by her father's second marriage, 
gave her a sufficient knowledge of both. Her aunt, angered by 

7 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

this unexpected and vexatious conduct on the part of this 
absurdly inexperienced young woman, her erstwhile paragon 
and protegee, summarily disinherited her. In many ways, Miss 
Gurly's marriage proved a disappointment. Her husband, one 
of the most impecunious of men, was far too poor to enable 
her to live on the scale to which she had been accustomed. 
Indeed, he was anything but a satisfactory husband for a clever 
woman. It was in her music that Mrs. Shaw found solace and 
comfort — a refuge from domestic disappointment. 

The formative influences of Shaw's early life were of a nature 
to inculcate in him that disbelief in popular education, that 
disrespect for popular religion, and that contempt for social 
pretensions which are so deeply ingrained in his work and 
character. Is it any wonder, after his youthful experience with 
orthodox religion, that, like Tennyson, he cherished a contempt 
for the God of the British: "an immeasurable clergyman"? 
In his own perverse and brilliant way, he has told us the history 
of his progressive revolt against the religious standards of his 
family : 

" I believe Ireland, as far as the Protestant gentry are 
concerned, to be the most irreligious country in the world. 
I was christened by my uncle; and as my godfather was 
intoxicated and did not turn up, the sexton was ordered 
to promise and vow in his place, precisely as my uncle 
might have ordered him to put more coals on the vestry 
fire. I was never confirmed, and I believe my parents never 
were either. The seriousness with which English families 
take this rite, and the deep impression it makes on many 
children, was a thing of which I had no conception. Prot- 
estantism in Ireland is not a religion ; it is a side in political 
faction, a class prejudice, a conviction that Roman Catholics 
are socially inferior persons, who will go to hell when they 
die, and leave Heaven in the exclusive possession of ladies 
and gentlemen. In my childhood I was sent every Sunday 
to a Sunday school where genteel children repeated texts, 
and were rewarded with little cards inscribed with other 
texts. After an hour of this, we were marched into the 

8 



DUBLIN DAYS 

adjoining church, to fidget there until our neighbours must 
have wished the service over as heartily as we did. I suf- 
fered this, not for my salvation, but because my father's 
respectability demanded it. When we went to live in the 
country, remote from social criticism, I broke with the 
observance and never resumed it. 

" What helped to make this ' church ' a hot-bed of all 
the social vices was that no working folk ever came to it. 
In England the clergy go among the poor, and sometimes 
do try desperately to get them to come to church. In 
Ireland the poor are Catholics — ' Papists,' as my Orange 
grandfather called them. The Protestant Church has 
nothing to do with them. Its snobbery is quite unmitigated. 
I cannot say that in Ireland every man is the worse for 
what he calls his religion. I can only say that all the 
people I knew were." 

One must beware of the error of exaggerating the influence of 
Puritanism upon Shaw's character in his youth. Mr. Shaw 
has laughed consumedly at Mr. Chesterton for speaking of his 
" narrow, Puritan home." A little incident may serve to reflect 
the tone of the heated religious controversies that went on in 
Mr. Shaw's home when he was a lad. Shaw's father, one of 
his maternal uncles, and a visitor engaged one day in a discus- 
sion over the raising of Lazarus. Mr. Shaw held the evangelical 
view: that it took place exactly as described. The visitor was 
a pure sceptic, and dismissed the story as manifestly impossible. 
But Shaw's uncle described it as a put-up job, in which Jesus 
had made a confederate of Lazarus — had made it worth his 
while, or asked him for friendship's sake to pretend he was dead 
and at the proper moment to pretend to come to life. " Now 
imagine me as a little child," said Shaw in narrating the story, 
" in my ' narrow, Puritan home,' listening to this discussion. 
I listened with very great interest, and I confess to you that 
the view which recommended itself most to me was that of my 
maternal uncle, and I think, on reflection, you will admit that 
that was the right and healthy point of view for a boy to take, 
because my maternal uncle's view appealed to a sense of humour, 

9 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

which is a very good thing and a very human thing, whereas 
the other two views — one appealing to my mere credulity and 
the other to mere scepticism — really did not appeal to any- 
thing at all that had any genuine religious value. . . . Now 
that was really the tone of religious controversy at that time, 
and it almost always showed us the barrenness on the side of 
religion very much more than it did on the side of scepticism." 
This anecdote brings irresistibly to mind Mark Twain's story 
of the old sea-captain who declared that Elijah had won out 
in the altar contest, not because of his superiority over the 
other prophets, or of his God to theirs, but because, under the 
pretence that it was water, he had had the foresight to inundate 
his altar with — petroleum ! 

A short while after he entered a land office in Dublin as an 
employee, a position secured for him by his uncle, Frederick 
Shaw, a high official in the Valuation Office, it was discovered 
that the young Shaw, then in his teens, instead of being an 
extremely correct Protestant and churchgoer, was actually what 
used to be known in those days as an " infidel." Many were 
the arguments, on the subject of religion and faith, that arose 
among the employees of the firm, arguments that usually went 
hard for young Shaw, the novice, untrained in dialectic. " What 
is the use of arguing," one of the apprentices, Humphrey 
Lloyd, said to Shaw one day, " when you don't know what a 
syllogism is? " As he once told me, Mr. Shaw promptly went 
and found out what it was, learning, like Moliere's hero, that 
he had been making syllogisms all his life without knowing it. 
Mr. Uniacke Townshend, Shaw's employer, a pillar of the church 
— and of the Royal Dublin Society — so far respected his free- 
dom of conscience as to make no attempt to reason with him, 
only imposing the condition that the subject be not discussed in 
the office. Although secretly chafing under the restraint, young 
Shaw for a time honourably submitted to the stern limitation; 
but an outbreak of some sort was inevitable. The immediate 
occasion of his first alarming appearance in print was the visit 
of the American evangelists, Moody and Sankey, to Dublin. 
Their arrival in Great Britain created a considerable sensation, 
*nd young Shaw went to hear them when they came to Dublin. 

10 



DUBLIN DAYS 

Not only was he wholly unmoved by their eloquence, but he 
actually felt bound to inform the public that, if this were 
Religion, then he was, on the whole, an Atheist. Imagine the 
extreme horror of his numerous uncles when they read his letter, 
solemnly printed in Public Opinion* These evangelistic services, 
he maintained, " were not of a religious, but a secular, not to 
say profane, character." Further, he said : " Respecting the 
effect of the revival on individuals I may mention that it has 
a tendency to make them highly objectionable members of 
society, and induces their unconverted friends to desire a 
speedy reaction, which either soon takes place or the revived 
one relapses slowly into his previous benighted condition as the 
effect fades ; and although many young men have been snatched 
from careers of dissipation by Mr. Moody's exhortations, it 
remains doubtful whether the change is not merely in the nature 
of the excitement rather than in the moral nature of the indi- 
vidual." 

The complete story of his " honest doubts," and his con- 
scientious revolt against the hollowness and inhuman frigidity 
of the religion he saw practised around him, he has related in the 
most ludicrously irreverent vein : 

" When I was a little boy, I was compelled to go to 
church on Sunday ; and though I escaped from that intol- 

* This letter, signed " S," appeared in Public Opinion on April 3d, 1875. 
It is a criticism of the methods adopted by Messrs. Moody and Sankey, 
and an attempt to show that the enormous audiences drawn to the evange- 
listic services were not proof of their efficacy. Shaw then proceeds to 
explain the motives which induced many people to attend, predominant 
among them being " the curiosity excited by the great reputation of the 
evangelists and the stories, widely circulated, of the summary annihilation 
by epilepsy and otherwise of sceptics who had openly proclaimed their 
doubts of Mr. Moody's divine mission." This letter has been reprinted in 
Public Opinion, November 8th, 1907. 

In his monograph on Shaw (pp. 42-3), Mr. Holbrook Jackson has pointed 
out that this was not Shaw's first bid for publicity. In the Vaudeville 
Magazine of September, 1871, there appeared among the Editorial Replies 
the following: " G. B. Shaw, Torca Cottage, Torca Hill, Dalkey, Co. Dub- 
lin, Ireland. — You should have registered your letter; such a combination 
of wit and satire ought not to have been conveyed at the ordinary rate of 
postage. As it was, your arguments were so weighty, we had to pay 
twopence extra for them." 

11 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

erable bondage before I was ten, it prejudiced me so vio- 
lently against church-going that twenty years elapsed 
before, in foreign lands and in pursuit of works of art, I 
became once more a church-goer. To this day, my flesh 
creeps when I recall that genteel suburban Irish Protestant 
church, built by Roman Catholic workmen who would have 
considered themselves damned had they crossed its threshold 
afterwards. Every separate stone, every pane of glass, 
every fillet of ornamental ironwork — half dog-collar, half- 
coronet — in that building must have sowed a separate evil 
passion in my young heart. Yes; all the vulgarity, sav- 
agery, and bad blood which has marred my literary work, 
was certainly laid up<Jn me in that house of Satan! The 
mere nullity of the building could make no positive im- 
pression on me; but what could, and did, were the unnat- 
urally motionless figures of the congregation in their 
Sunday clothes and bonnets, and their set faces, pale with 
the malignant rigidity produced by the suppression of all 
expression. And yet these people were always moving and 
watching one another by stealth, as convicts communicate 
with one another. So was I. I had been told to keep my 
restless little limbs still all through the interminable hours ; 
not to talk ; and, above all, to be happy and holy there and 
glad that I was not a wicked little boy playing in the fields 
instead of worshipping God. I hypocritically acquiesced ; 
but the state of my conscience may be imagined, especially 
as I implicitly believed that all the rest of the congregation 
were perfectly sincere and good. I remember at the time 
dreaming one night that I was dead and had gone to 
Heaven. The picture of Heaven which the efforts of the 
then Established Church of Ireland had conveyed to my 
childish imagination, was a waiting-room with walls of pale 
sky-coloured tabbinet, and a pew-like bench running all 
round, except at one corner, where there was a door. I 
was, somehow, aware that God was in the next room, ac- 
cessible through the door. I was seated on the bench with 
my ankles tightly interlaced to prevent my legs dangling, 
behaving myself with all my might before the grown-up 

12 



DUBLIN DAYS 

people, who all belonged to the Sunday congregation, and 
were either sitting on the bench as if at church or else 
moving solemnly in and out as if there were a dead person 
in the house. A grimly-handsome lady, who usually sat in 
a corner seat near me in church, and whom I believed to 
be thoroughly conversant with the arrangements of the 
Almighty, was to introduce me presently into the next 
room — a moment which I was supposed to await with joy 
and enthusiasm. Really, of course, my heart sank like lead 
within me at the thought ; for I felt that my feeble affecta- 
tion of piety could not impose on Omniscience, and that 
one glance of that all-searching eye would discover that 
I had been allowed to come to Heaven by mistake. Unfor- 
tunately for the interest of th' narrative, I woke, or wan- 
dered off into another dream, before the critical moment 
arrived. But it goes far enough to show that I was by no 
means an insusceptible subject; indeed, I am sure, from 
other early experiences of mine, that if I had been turned 
loose in a real church, and allowed to wander and stare 
about, or hear noble music there instead of that most 
accursed i Te Deum ' of Jackson's and a senseless droning 
of the ' Old Hundredth,' I should never have seized the 
opportunity of a great evangelical revival, which occurred 
to me when I was still in my teens, to begin my literary 
career with a letter to the Press, announcing with inflexible 
materialistic logic, and to the extreme horror of my respect- 
able connections, that I was an atheist. When, later on, 
I was led to the study of the economic basis of the respect- 
ability of that and similar congregations, I was inex- 
pressibly relieved to find that it represented a mere phase of 
industrial confusion, and could never have substantiated its 
claims to my respect, if, as a child, I had been able to bring 
it to book. To this very day, whenever there is the slightest 
danger of my being mistaken for a votary of the blue 
tabbinet waiting-room or a supporter of that morality in 
which wrong and right, base and noble, evil and good, really 
mean nothing more than the kitchen and the drawing-room, 

13 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

I hasten to claim honourable exemption, as atheist and 
socialist, from any such complicity." * 

The lesson of the selfishness and insincerity of society 
ineradicably impressed upon Ibsen's mind in his childhood days 
is paralleled by a similar experience in the youth of Shaw. The 
ingrained snobbery of society as he saw it, the contempt for those 
lower in social pretensions, if not in social station, revolted the 
lad's whole nature. He soon became animated with a Carlylean 
contempt for the snobbery of " respectability in its thousand 
gigs." As in the case of the disconsolate Stendhal, Shaw was 
not long in discovering that his family revered what he despised, 
and detested what he enthusiastically admired. An incident he 
relates, in illustration of this trait in his father, serves in great 
measure to explain Shaw's scorn, in after life, of the blandish- 
ments of the drawing-room, his intolerance of fashionable 
society. 

" One evening I was playing on the street with a school- 
fellow of mine, when my father came home. He ques- 
tioned me about this boy, who was the son of a prosperous 
ironmonger. The feelings of my father, who was not pros- 
perous and who sold flour by the sack, when he learned that 
his son had played on the public street with the son of 
a man who sold nails by the pennyworth in a shop are not 
to be described. He impressed on me that my honour, my 
self-respect, my human dignity, all stood upon my deter- 
mination not to associate with persons engaged in retail 
trade. Probably this was the worst crime my father ever 
committed. And yet I do not see what else he could have 
taught me, short of genuine republicanism, which is the 
only possible school of good manners. 

" Imagine being taught to despise a workman, and to 
respect a gentleman, in a country where every rag of excuse 
for gentility is stripped off by poverty ! Imagine being 

* On Going to Church. This essay appeared originally in the Savoy 
Magazine, January, 1896; it is now published in book form by John W. 
Luce and Co., Boston, Mass. 

U 



DUBLIN DAYS 

taught that there is one God — a Protestant and a perfect 
gentleman — keeping Heaven select for the gentry; and an 
idolatrous impostor called the Pope, smoothing the hell- 
ward way for the mass of the people, only admissible into 
the kitchens of most of the aforesaid gentry as ' thorough 
servants ' (general servants) at eight pounds a yearl Im- 
agine the pretensions of the English peerage on the incomes 
of the English lower middle-class. I remember Stopford 
Brooke one day telling me that he discerned in my books 
an intense and contemptuous hatred for society. No 
wonder ! though, like him, I strongly demur to the usurpa- 
tion of the word ' society ' by an unsocial system of setting 
class against class and creed against creed." * 

As to education, in the ordinary sense, the lad had none: he 
never learned anything at school. He found no incentive to 
study under the tutelage of people who put Ccesar and Horace 
into the hands of small boys and expected the result to be an 
elegant taste and knowledge of the world. His first teacher was 
his uncle, the Rev. William George Carroll, Vicar of St. Bride's, 
Dublin — reputed the first Protestant clergyman in Ireland to 
declare for Home Rule. We have one brief but comprehensive 
glimpse of his school life at this period of immaturity : " The 
word education brought to my mind four successive schools 
where my parents got me out of the way for half a day. In 
these creches — for that is exactly what they were — I learned 
nothing. How I could have been such a sheep as to go to them, 
when I could just as easily have flatly refused, puzzles and 
exasperates me to this day. They did me a great deal of harm, 
and no good whatever. However, my parents thought I ought 
to go, being too young to have any confidence in my own 
instincts. So I went. And if you can in any public way convey 
to these idiotic institutions my hearty curse, you will relieve 
my feelings infinitely. . . . As a schoolboy I was incorrigibly 
idle and worthless. And I am proud of the fact." In the 
preface to John BulVs Other Island, Shaw has referred in par- 

* In the Days of My Youth. By Bernard Shaw. Mainly About Peo- 
ple, 1898. 

15 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ticular to the Wesleyan Connexional School, now Wesley Col- 
lege, Dublin. Here the Wesleyan catechism was taught without 
protest to pupils, the majority of whom were Church (Protes- 
tant Irish) boys ! So long as their sons were taught genuine 
Protestantism, the parents didn't bother about the particular 
brand. The school's most famous alumni are Sir Robert Hart 
and Bernard Shaw. In the school roll-book Shaw is entered for 
the first time as attending on April 13th, 1867. Unfortunately, 
only a bare record of his class marks is given. " He seems to 
have been generally near or at the bottom of his classes," said 
the principal, the Rev. William Crawford, in a letter to me of 
date August 6th, 1909 ; " but, perhaps typically of the man, he 
jumped up suddenly to second place once in his first quarter, 
and does not seem to have aspired again. He was entered in 
the ' First Latin Class,' I suppose the most junior division on 
the classical side." Shaw sat in class between a classic and a 
mathematician, both in after years distinguished scholars. Each 
did his appropriate share of young Shaw's work. In return 
Shaw would narrate for their delectation, according to the 
account of one of the twain, numerous stories from the Iliad 
and Odyssey, in his own peculiar and inimitable vein. Shaw 
was only in his tenth year when he entered the Wesleyan Con- 
nexional School ; and in that year Dr. H. R. Parker, of Trinity 
College, Dublin, was head master and Rev. T. A. McKee was 
governor. Apparently, no picture of the old school now exists ; 
the new building stands near, but not on, the site of the old 
school.* 

It might be imagined, from the evidence of Shaw's own con- 
fessions just detailed, that it was impossible for a boy who " took 
refuge in idleness " at school to acquire any sort of an educa- 
tion; but such a supposition is very wide of the mark. The 
discipline he received at home, the discipline of laissez faire et 
laissez alter , which might have spoiled the average boy, had just 
the opposite effect upon this strangely inquisitive, alarmingly 
self-assertive child. If he lost somewhat in youthful gentleness 
and tenderness, he gained greatly in manly determination and 

* Compare Jubilee of Wesley College, Dublin, December, 1895 — being a 
special number of the Wesley College Quarterly. 

16 



DUBLIN DAYS 

independence. If he was never treated as a child, at least he 
was let do what he liked. Thus the habit of freedom, which, as 
he once assured me, most Englishmen and Englishwomen of 
his class never acquire, came to him naturally. 

One might say of Shaw's mother that she was the antithesis 
of Candida on the domestic plane. In many respects she was 
a forerunner of the " new woman " of our own day — inde- 
pendent, self-reliant, indifferent to public opinion. She was, in 
her son's phrase, " constitutionally unfitted for the sentiment of 
wifehood and motherhood " ; her genuine energy and talents 
were bestowed almost undividedly upon music. Not long after 
her marriage to Mr. Shaw, she became the right hand of an 
energetic genius, who had formed a musical society and an 
orchestra in Dublin. These organizations were composed wholly 
of amateurs — and unavoidably so — in view of the state of 
musical activity in Dublin at the time. By all the local pro- 
fessors of music this energetic genius and man of successful 
ambitions, George John Vandaleur Lee, was held in the greatest 
contempt, even hatred, because he had repudiated their tradi- 
tions, and thereby actually trained himself to become an effective 
teacher of singing. Through actual dissection, as well as by 
practical singing, he studied the anatomy of the throat until 
he was able, by watching and hearing a singer, to state with 
certainty the exact nature of the physical processes going on. 
From Badeali, an Italian opera singer, who preserved a splendid 
voice to a great age, he learned the secret of voice preservation. 
This method he taught to Mrs. Shaw so successfully that when 
she gave up singing, late in life, it was not because her voice 
failed her, but because her age made singing ridiculous.* 

* Lee continued steadily to advance in his profession, becoming suc- 
cessively music-teacher, opera-conductor, festival conductor, and finally 
fashionable teacher of singing in Park Lane, London. He accomplished 
everything that he undertook, even conducting a Handel Festival in 
Dublin, participated in by Tietjens, Agnesi, and other leading singers of 
the day. For several years he enjoyed great popularity in London as a 
teacher of music. When he died, quite suddenly, at his home in Park 
Lane, it was discovered, Shaw afterwards remarked, that he had ex- 
hausted his stock of health in his Dublin period, and that the days of his 
vanity in London were days of progressive decay. 

17 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Lee's twofold influence upon the young Shaw — indirectly 
through Mrs. Shaw's musical activities, and directly through the 
inspiration of his personal character, one of phenomenal com- 
petence and unswerving determination — is very markedly visible 
in the Shaw of after years, the brilliant musical critic and the 
doggedly persistent seeker after worthy success and merited 
fame. Mrs. Shaw studied singing under Lee, and thorough bass 
under Logier. She assisted Lee in all his various and varied 
enterprises, copying orchestral parts and scoring songs for him. 
She led the chorus for him at the musical society; and at dif- 
ferent times she appeared in operas produced and directed by 
Lee, playing Azucena in II Trovatore, Donna Anna in Don 
Giovanni, Margaret in Gounod's Faust, and Lucrezia Borgia in 
Donizetti's opera of that name. Finally, in order to facilitate 
matters, Mrs. Shaw kept house for Lee by setting up a joint 
household, a sort of " blameless menage a trots " — the phrase 
her son used in speaking of it to me — which lasted until 1872, 
the year of Lee's departure for London. 

As all these operas were rehearsed at his home, it was only 
natural that Bernard Shaw should pick up, quite unconsciously, 
indeed, a knowledge of that extraordinary literature of modern 
music, from Bach to Wagner, with which his mother and Lee 
were so familiar. While he was yet a small boy, he whistled and 
sang, from the first bar to the last, not only the operas he 
frequently heard, but also the many oratorios rendered from 
time to time by the musical society. Indeed, Mr. Shaw once 
remarked that, besides their respectability, the chief merit of his 
family was a remarkable aptitude for playing all sorts of wind 
instruments by ear, even his father playing " Home, Sweet 
Home " upon the flute. Before he was fifteen, Bernard Shaw 
knew at least one important work by Handel, Mozart, Bee- 
thoven, Mendelssohn, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi and 
Gounod from cover to cover. Not only did he whistle the 
themes to himself as a street boy whistles music-hall songs, but 
he also sang incessantly, to himself and for himself, opera and 
oratorio, in an " absurd gibberish which was Italian picked up 
by ear — and Irish Italian at that." No one ever taught him 
music in his youth, but when he grew up, although he had a 

18 




Lucinda Elizabeth 

(Gurly) Shaw. 



I A 



George Carr 
Shaw. 



George John Vandaleur Lee. 

Reproduced from a copy, by Bernard Shaw, of the original photograph by Richard 
Pigott. forger of the Parnell letters. Taken in 1 863. 



IFacing p. 18 



DUBLIN DAYS 

very indifferent voice, he took some singing lessons under his» 
mother. At first, he found that he could not make a rightly 
produced sound that was audible two yards off. But he learned 
readily, under the competent instruction of his mother, and 
now his voice, " a commonplace baritone of the most ordinary 
range, B flat to F, and French pitch preferred for the F," is 
distinguished rather by audibility than in any other respect. 
It is noteworthy that the lessons he learned from his mother — 
the secrets of breathing and enunciation — proved of incalculable 
value to him afterwards on the platform, in the strenuous days 
of his dialectical warfare. 

Although Bernard Shaw idled away his time at school, the 
very real education he received through other broader and ^ 
deeper channels has since saved him, he stoutly maintains, from 
being " at the smallest disadvantage with men who only know 
the grammar and mispronunciation of the Greek and Latin poets 
and philosophers." The other great motor of educational 
influence in his youth was the National Gallery of Ireland; to 
that cherished asylum^ which he haunted in the days of his 
youth, he has often expressed his unmeasured gratitude. When- 
ever he had any money, he bought volumes of the Bohn trans- 
lation of Vasari ; and at fifteen he knew enough of a considerable 
number of Italian and Flemish painters to recognize their work 
at sight. His communion with the masterpieces preserved in 
the Dublin Gallery was so solitary that he was once driven to 
say, with comically extravagant egoism, that he believed he was 
the only Irishman, except the officials, who had ever been there. 
This acquaintance with art and the history of art " did more 
for him," he once asserted, than the two cathedrals in Dublin 
so magnificently " restored " out of the profits of the drink 
trade. I think we must conclude, with the ever modest auto- 
biographer, that, thanks to communism in pictures, he was really 
a very highly educated boy. 

Through lack of means, the Shaws were unable to give their 
son a university education; perhaps no regret need be felt on 
this score, since it is not unlikely, in view of his attitude towards 
a university education, that he would have taken refuge in 
idleness at Oxford, Cambridge, or Dublin, just as he had done 

19 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

at the schools he had already attended. Unlike his future col- 
leagues in dramatic criticism, William Archer and Arthur 
Bingham Walkley, graduates of Edinburgh and Oxford re- 
spectively, Shaw despised, half ignorantly, half penetratingly, 
the thought of a university education, for it seemed to him to 
turn out men who all thought alike and were snobs. So in 1871, 
at the age of fifteen, he entered the office of an Irish land agent, 
Mr. Charles Uniacke Townshend, and remained there until 
March, 1876. Perhaps the Ibsenite, the Nietzschean of after 
years was thus beginning a course of preliminary training: 
Henri Beyle used to say that to have been a banker was to have 
gone through the best preparatory school for philosophy. 
During this period Bernard Shaw lived in lodgings in Dublin 
with his father, who had by this time given up that furtive 
drinking, of which his son in after life spoke with such frank 
levity. The lad's salary at first was eighteen pounds a year, 
his position that of junior clerk. He had no fondness for his 
work, and took no interest in land agency ; nevertheless, he made 
a very satisfactory clerk. At the end of about a year, a sudden 
vacancy occurred in the most active post in the office, that of 
cashier. As this involved a sort of miniature banking business 
for the clients, and the daily receipt and payment of all sorts 
of rents, interests, insurances, private allowances and so on, it 
was a comparatively busy post, and a position of trust besides. 
The junior clerk was temporarily called upon to fill the sudden 
vacancy pending the engagement of a new cashier of greater 
age and experience. He performed his numerous duties so suc- 
cessfully that the engagement of the new man was first delayed 
and then dropped. The child of fifteen, laboriously and suc- 
cessfully struggling to change his sloped, straggly, weak- 
minded handwriting into a fair imitation of his predecessor's, is 
father of the man of forty, carefully drawing up elaborate 
contracts with theatre managers, who never kept them. By 
this initial exhibition of enterprise, young Shaw's salary, now 
twenty-four pounds a year, was doubled, which meant a consid- 
erable step ahead. The clear-cut chirography of the Shaw of 
to-day and the neatness of arrangement so noticeable in his 
apartments at Adelphi Terrace are the results of his early train- 

20 



DUBLIN DAYS 

ing ; indeed, he was a remarkably correct cashier and accountant, 
as one of Mr. Shaw's colleagues in the office once told me. 
While he was always ignorant of the state of his own finances, 
and to-day troubles little about his personal accounts, he was 
never a farthing out in his accounts at the office. 

Land agency in Ireland was, and is still, a socially pretentious 
business. Although the position Shaw held was regarded as a 
very genteel sort of post, yet to him this was no gratification, 
but quite the reverse. It was saturated with a class feeling for 
which, even at that time, he had an intense loathing. The posi- 
tion carried with it, nevertheless, certain obvious advantages. 
It secured for him the society of a set of so-called apprentices, 
who were, in fact, idle young gentlemen who had paid a big 
premium to be taught a genteel profession. Though the 
premium was not paid to Shaw, still he took delight in teaching 
his co-workers various operatic scenas, which were occasionally 
in full swing when the principal or a customer would enter the 
office unexpectedly. On one occasion, Mr. Shaw once told me 
gleefully, a certain apprentice sang: "Ah, che la morte " in his 
tower — standing on the washstand with his head appearing over 
a tall screen — with such feeling and such obliviousness to all 
external events, that the whole office force was suddenly struck 
busy and silent by the arrival of Mr. Townshend, the senior 
partner, who stared, stupended, at the bleating countenance 
above the screen and finally fled upstairs, completely beaten by 
the situation. The young clerk thus found plenty of fun and 
diversion in his association with young men of culture and 
education; this did not make him hate his work any the less. 
His natural antipathy to respectability asserted itself very 
early in his career: he once said that land agency was too re- 
spectable for him. Moreover, the enforced repression concern- 
ing his religious beliefs bred in him a spirit of discontent and 
revolt. Although he realized that silence on the subject was 
undoubtedly an indispensable condition of sociability among 
people who disagreed strongly on such a matter, yet he chafed 
under the restraint. To such a restraint he felt he could never 
permanently submit. This incident alone would have had the 
ultimate effect of making him a bad employee. Fortunately for 

21 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the world, it put land agency and business as a serious career 
out of the question for him. The author of Widowers 9 Houses 
collecting rents as a lifelong profession is a ludicrous, an in- 
credible incongruity. Shaw retained his place simply for the 
sake of financial independence. When he gave up his position, 
his employer was sorry to lose him, and, at the request of 
Shaw's father, readily gave him a handsome testimonial. In 
speaking of the circumstance one day, Mr. Shaw told me that 
he was furious that such a demand should have been made. 
Nothing could have shown more clearly his distaste for the posi- 
tion he held. " Once or twice," commented Mr. Shaw, " my 
employer showed himself puzzled and annoyed when some acci- 
dent lifted the veil for a moment and gave him a glimpse of 
the fact that his excellent and pecuniarily incorruptible clerk's 
mind and interest and even intelligence were ten thousand 
leagues away, in a region foreign, if not hostile." Surely this 
was another age of " inspired office boys." * 

In 1872, Mr. Lee left Dublin for London, the joint household 
broke up, and all musical activity ceased. The return to a single 
household on Mr. Shaw's income was all but impossible, for his 
affairs were as unprosperous as ever. At this time there was 
even some question of Bernard Shaw's two sisters becoming 
professional singers. With characteristic energy and decisive- 
ness, Mrs. Shaw boldly cut the Gordian knot by going to London 
and becoming a professional teacher of singing. This domestic 
debacle robbed young Shaw of his mother's influence, which was 
always stimulating and inspiring, if somewhat indirectly and 
impersonally so. It deprived him also of music, which, up to 
that time, had been his daily food. This sudden deprivation of 
the solace of music came to him as a distinct surprise. He had 
never dreamed of such a contingency. Fortunately the piano 

* In speaking of his apprenticeship as a clerk in the land office, Shavr 
declares : " I should have been there still if I had not broken loose in 
defiance of all prudence, and become a professional man of genius — a 
resource not open to every clerk. I mention this to show that the fact 
that I am not still a clerk may be regarded for the purposes of this article 
as a mere accident. I am not one of those successful men who can say, 
'Why don't you do as I do?'" — From Bernard Shaw as a Clerk. By 
Himself in The Clerk, January, 1908. 






DUBLIN DAYS 

remained. Although he had never until then touched it except 
to pick out a tune with one finger, he now set to work in earnest 
to learn the art of piano playing. It was in a spirit of despera- 
tion that he went out and bought a technical handbook of music, 
containing a diagram of the keyboard. No finger exercises, no 
etudes de velocite for Shaw: he at once got out Don Giovanni 
and tried to play the overture! It took him ten minutes to 
arrange his fingers on the notes of the first chord. " What I 
suffered, what everybody in the house suffered, whilst I struggled 
on, labouring through arrangements of Beethoven's symphonies, 
of Tannhauser, and of all the operas and oratorios I knew, will 
never be told." It was in vain now, he said, merely to sing: 
" my native wood-notes wild — just then breaking frightfully — 
could not satisfy my intense craving for the harmony which is 
the emotional substance of music, and for the rhythmic figures 
of accompaniment which are its action and movement. I had 
only a single splintering voice, and I wanted an orchestra." 
This musical starvation it was that drove him to the piano in 
disregard of the rights of his fellow-lodgers. 

" At the end of some months I had acquired a technique of 
my own, as a sample of which I may offer my fingering of the 
scale of C major. Instead of shifting my hand by turning 

CDEFGABC 
the thumb under and fingering 1231234 5, 1 passed 
my fourth finger over my fifth, 

CDEFGABC 
and played 1234545 4. 

This method has the advantage of being applicable to all 
scales, diatonic or chromatic, and to this day I often fall 
back on it. Liszt and Chopin hit on it too, but they never 
used it to the extent I did. I soon acquired a terrible power 
of stumbling through pianoforte arrangements and vocal 
scores; and my reward was that I gained penetrating 
experiences of Victor Hugo and Schiller from Donizetti, 
Verdi, and Beethoven; of the Bible from Handel; of 
Goethe from Schumann ; of Beaumarchais and Moliere from 

23 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Mozart; and of Merimee from Bizet, besides finding in 
Berlioz an unconscious interpreter of Edgar Allan Poe. 
When I was in the schoolboy adventure vein, I could range 
from Vincent Wallace to Meyerbeer ; and if I felt piously 
and genteelly sentimental, I, who could not stand the pic- 
tures of Ary SchefFer or the genteel suburban sentiment of 
Tennyson and Longfellow, could become quite maudlin over 
Mendelssohn and Gounod. And, as I searched all the music 
I came across for the sake of its poetic or dramatic content, 
and played the pages in which I found poetry or drama 
over and over again, whilst I never returned to those in 
which the music was trying to exist ornamentally for its 
own sake and had no real content at all, it soon followed 
that when I came across the consciously perfect art work 
in the music dramas of Wagner, I ran no risk of hopelessly 
misunderstanding it as the academic musicians did. In- 
deed, I soon found that they equally misunderstood Mozart 
and Beethoven, though, having come to like their tunes and 
harmonies, and to understand their mere carpentry, they 
pointed out what they supposed to be their merits with an 
erroneousness far more fatal to their unfortunate pupils 
than the volley of half -bricks with which they greeted Wag- 
ner (who, it must be confessed, retaliated with a volley of 
whole ones fearfully well aimed)." * 

Although he did a good deal of accompanying, especially in 
the days of his intimacy with the Salt family, he never really 
mastered the instrument. Once, in a desperate emergency, he 
supplied the place of the absent half of the orchestra at a per- 
formance of II Trovatore at a People's Entertainment evening 
at the Victoria Theatre — and, luckily, came off without disaster. 
To-day he goes to his little Bechstein piano, a relic of the first 
Arts and Crafts Exhibition, and fearlessly attacks any opera or 
symphony. He is his own Melba, his own Plancon, too, thanks, 
as his wife pathetically explains, to " a remarkable power of 
making the most extraordinary noises with his throat." He 

* The Religion, of the Pianoforte, ia the Fortnightly Review, February, 
1894. 






DUBLIN DAYS 

even revels in the pianola ! And I have shared his en j oyment in 
his own rendition of a Chopin nocturne upon that remarkable 
mechanical toy. 

Bernard Shaw would have been a model young man at the 
desk but for the fact that, like Nathaniel Hawthorne at the 
Boston Custom House, like Ibsen at the apothecary's shop in 
Grimstad, his heart was not in the thing. " I never made a pay- 
ment," he once frankly confessed to me, " without a hope or 
even a half resolve that I should never have to make it again. 
In spite of which, I was so wanting in enterprise and so shy and 
helpless in worldly matters (though I believe I had the air of 
being quite the reverse), that six months later I found myself 
making the payment again." 

There gradually came to him a consciousness of the futility of 
his life, the consciousness of one who has been freed of illusion. 
In this young boy was none of the soft-blarney, the winning and 
dulcet melancholy, of the proverbial Irishman. He escaped that 
mystic influence of Roman Catholicism, which produces the 
phantast, the dreamer and the saint. Calvinism had taught him 
that " once a man is born it is too late to save him or damn 
him ; you may ' educate ' him and ' form his character ' until 
you are black in the face ; he is predestinate, and his soul cannot 
be changed any more than a silk purse can be changed into a 
sow's ear." In the atmosphere of the Island of the Saints — 
" that most mystical of all mystical things " — he learned to 
realize the barrenness of all else in comparison with the supreme 
importance of realizing the purpose of his existence on this 
earth. 

Hence it was that his work and position finally became unbear- 
ably irksome, unendurable. London imperatively beckoned to 
him. That way, perhaps, lay freedom from the obsession of 
hated respectability, freedom from repression of his convictions, 
freedom for self-development and spiritual expansion. At the 
age of twenty, this raw Irish lad, wholly ignorant of the great 
•world, walked out of his office, and threw himself recklessly into 
London. There, immediately after the death of his sister Agnes 
in the* Isle of Wight, in 1876, he joined his mother in la lutte 

25 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

pour la vie* There he was to set the crystalline intellectual 
clarity, the philosophic consciousness of the brilliant Celt, into 
sharp juxtaposition with the plodding practicality, the dogged 
energy of the complacent Briton. There he was to find the 
arena for his championship of those advanced movements in art, 
music, literature and politics, which give significance and char- 
acter to the closing quarter of the nineteenth century. 

In these early years we may discern in Shaw the gradual birth 
of the social consciousness, the slow unfolding of deep-rooted 
impulses toward individualism and self-expression. Like other 
boys of his day and time, Shaw melted lead on Holieve, hid 
rings in pancakes, and indulged in the conventional mummeries 
of Christmas. But to him these were dreary, silly diversions, 
against which his nature rebelled. He once refused to celebrate 
Shakespeare's birthday — for the very good reason that he had 
never celebrated his own. In the conventional sense, he was 
never " reared " at all : he simply " grew up wild." No effort 
was made to form his character: he developed from within, 
strangely aloof in spirit from the healthy gaieties of the normal 
lad. Thus was bred in him, even at an early age, a sort of 
premature asceticism which left its indelible mark upon his 
character. The puritanic convictions which have animated his 
entire life find their origin in the half -instinctive, half-enforced 
aloofness of his childhood days. 

Shaw was not brought up, as we might expect, a Noncon- 
formist ; he was a member of the Irish Protestant Church. He 
rebelled against the inhuman repression, the meaningless ritual- 
ism of his church; but the influences of his home, nevertheless, 
left their impress upon his nature. His whole long life is an 
outcry of soaring individualism against repressive authority; 
and yet the puritan intensity in condemnation of self-indulgence, 
the ascetic revolt from alcoholism, speaks forth unmistakably 
in the humanitarian, the vegetarian, the teetotaller of a later 
epoch. 

*Mr. Shaw's other sister, Miss Lucy Carr Shaw, was the immediate 
cause of her mother's settling in London. She became a professional 
singer, and, later, a writer. Her best known book is entitled Five Letters 
of the House of Kildonnel. 

26 



DUBLIN DAYS 

The ingrained and constitutional protestantism of his forbears 
found expression in his boyish, yet rigorously atheistic protest 
against the religion of Moody and Sankey. In this audacious 
protest we can scarcely expect to find any sort of matured con- 
viction; it is the first bold denial of his life. Thus early we 
observe the workings of polemic, of criticism and analysis — 
before he had ever left Irish soil. Even then, I fancy, he felt 
faint stirrings of a deeper religious protestant faith. In that 
protest, we may discern a forecast of the Plays for Puritans and 
The Shomng-up of Blanco Posnet. 

Thrown upon his own resources, sharing with his fellows none 
of the wholesome and joyous foolhardiness of youth, he devel- 
oped a maturity of judgment, a detachment in observation, out 
of all proportion to his years. His puritanism expressed itself 
in silent condemnation of the social self -righteousness he saw 
around him, the distinctions so sharply drawn on lines, not of 
individual worth, but of social station and respectability. That 
arresting passage in Man and Superman in which he describes 
the birth of the social passion is a piece of spiritual auto- 
biography: it changed the child into the man. There was 
already at work within him the leaven of the later social revolu- 
tion of our own day. Intensity of political conviction was 
a family tradition and heritage. In the eighteenth century 
a Shaw had been leader of the " Orangemen " ; and in the nine- 
teenth century one of Shaw's uncles was the first Protestant 
priest in Ireland who, contrary to the convictions of his com- 
panions in creed, declared himself in favour of Home Rule. By 
heritage, by environment, by temperament, Bernard Shaw was 
destined to display throughout his life that intensity of political 
conviction, that depth of humanitarian concern, that passion for 
social service which will for ever remain associated with his name. 



27 



LONDON 

"My destiny was to educate London, but I had neither studied my 
pupil nor related my ideas properly to the common stock of human knowl- 
edge." — George Bernard Shorn; an Interview, in The Chap-Book, Novem- 
ber, 1896. 



CHAPTER II 

"^^THEN did you first feel inclined to write?" Shaw was 
V V once asked. " I never felt inclined to write, any more 
than I ever felt inclined to breathe," was his perverse reply. 
1 1 felt inclined to draw : Michael Angelo was my boyish ideal. 
I felt inclined to be a wicked baritone in an opera when I grew 
out of my earlier impulse towards piracy and highway robbery. 
You see, as I couldn't draw, I was perfectly well aware that 
drawing was an exceptional gift. But it never occurred to 
me that my literary sense was exceptional. I gave the whole 
world credit for it. The fact is, there is nothing 'miraculous, 
nothing particularly interesting, even, in a natural faculty to 
the man who has it. The amateur, the collector, the enthusiast 
in an art, is the man who lacks the faculty for producing it. 
The Venetian wants to be a cavalry soldier ; the Gaucho wants to 
be a sailor ; the fish wants to fly, and the bird to swim. No, I 
never wanted to write. I know now, of course, the value and 
the scarcity of the literary faculty (though I think it over- 
rated) ; but I still don't want it." And he added: " You cannot 
want a thing and have it, too." 

That Shaw did want to write, however, is clearly shown by 
the early outpourings of the artistic mood in the imaginative 
boy. When he was quite small, he concocted a short story and 
sent it to some boys' journal — something about a man with a 
gun attacking another man in the Glen of the Doons. In after 
years, spiritual adventures fired his soul; at this time, the gun 
was the centre of interest. The mimetic instinct of childhood 
in his case, however, found incentives to the development of 
almost every artistic faculty other than writing. His hours 
spent in the National Gallery of Ireland, his study of the 
literature of Italian art, filled him with the desire to be another 
Michael Angelo; but he couldn't draw. Like Browning, Shaw 
wished to be an artist, and, like Browning also, he wished to 

31 



Shaw,^^^ 

r WHt years 



* 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

be a musician. He heard music from the rising of the sun unto 
the going down of the same ; he knew whole operas and oratorios. 
He wanted to be a musician, but couldn't play ; to be a dramatic 
singer, but had no voice. The facile conqueror of every literary 
domain, mocked in later life with the accusation of being a sort 
of literary Jack-of-all-trades, was only puzzled as a youth to 
discover in himself a single promising potentiality. 

A casual remark of an acquaintance first startled Shaw, 
in his teens, into recognition of the fact that he lacked^ 
of final consciousness in regard to his own position ai 
The apprentice in the land agency office, eight orTi^^eal 
Shaw's senior, who sang, " Ah, che la morte " with such deadly 
effect, one day happened to obse&fijfefrat every young fellow 
thinks that he is going to be a^B w until he is twenty. 

" The shock that this gave me,"J Ew once confessed to 
me with perfect naive^L " made me suddenly aware that this 
was my own precise^ ™on. But k \lry brief consideration 
reassured me — why, Vj Vt know ; for I could do nothing that 
gave me the smallest hope of making good my calm classification 
of myself as one of the world to which Shelley and Mozart and 
Praxiteles and Michael Angelo belonged, and as totally foreign 
to the plane on which land agents laboured." 

In Cashel Byron's Profession, the hero, a prize-fighter, re- 
marks that it is not what a man would like to do, but what he 
can do, that he must work at in this world. Naturally enough, 
Bernard Shaw, the young lad in his teens, had not yet come to 
any sort of artistic self-consciousness. Shaw may be said to 
have spent half of his life in the search for the Ultima Thule 
of what he could do. And it is by no means certain, judging 
from the lesson of his career, that he has yet discovered all of 
his capabilities. Certain it is that, at this formative stage in 
his career, he had found only one: the ability to keep — not to 
write — books. Mr. Shaw once pictured for me his state of 
dejection at this time over his inefficiency and incompetence. 
" What was wrong with me then was the want of self-respect, 
the diffidence, the cowardice of the ignoramus and the duffer. 
What saved me was my consciousness that I must learn to do 
something — that nothing but the possession of skill, of efficiency, 



LONDON 



f 

£ of mastery, in short, was of any use. The sort of aplomb 
% which my cousins seemed to derive from the consciousness that 
their great-great-grandfather had also been the great-great- 
grandfather of Sir Robert Shaw, of Bushy Park, was denied to 
me. You cannot be imposed on by remote baronets if you 
belong to the republic of art. I was chronically ashamed and 
even miserable simply because I couldn't do anything. It is 
true that I could keep Mr. Townshend's cash, and that I never 
dreamt of stealing it ; and riper years have made me aware that 
many of my artistic feats may be less highly estimated in the 
books of the Recording Angel than this prosaic achievement; 
but at this time it counted for less than nothing. It was a 
qualification for what I hated; and the notion of my principal 
actually giving me a testimonial to my efficiency as a cashier 
drove me to an exhibition of rage that must have seemed merely 
perverse to my unfortunate father." 

In these days of inarticulate revolt against current religious 
and social ideals, Shaw somehow found an outlet for that seeth- 
ing lava of his spirit, which was one day to burst forth with 
such alarming effect. This, Shaw's first published work, was 
the forthright letter in Public Opinion, in which he sought to 
stem the force of the first great Moody and Sankey revival by 
the announcement that he, personally, had renounced religion as 
a delusion ! Besides this single public vent for his insurgency, 
he had found, in the friendship of a kindred spirit of imagina- 
tive temperament, the opportunity for the expression of all the 
doubts, hopes and aspirations of his eager and revolutionary 
intelligence. With one of his schoolfellows, Shaw struck up 
a curious friendship: this young fellow, Edward McNulty, was 
afterwards known as the author of Misther O'Ryan, The Son 
of a Peasant, and Maureen,* three very original and very re- 
markable novels of Irish life. Both boys possessed imaginative 
temperaments, and their association gave promise of ripening 
into close and lasting friendship. But circumstances separated 
them so effectually that, after their schooldays, they saw very 
little of each other. McNulty was an official in the Bank of 

* These books were published by Edward Arnold. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Ireland, and had been drafted to the Newry branch of the insti- 
tution, while Shaw, as we know, was in Mr. Townshend's land 
office in Dublin. During the period of their separation, between 
Shaw's fifteenth and twentieth years, they kept up a tremendous 
correspondence. In this way they probably worked off the 
literary energy which usually produces early works. The im- 
mense letters, sometimes illustrated with crude drawings and 
enlivened by brief dramas, which came and went with each post, 
served as " exhausts " for the superfluous steam of their literary 
force. It was understood between them that the letters were to 
be destroyed as soon as answered, as their authors did not relish 
the possibility of such unreserved soul histories falling into 
strange hands. 

I believe that Shaw perpetrated one more long correspondence, 
this time with an unnamed English lady, whose fervently imag- 
inative novels would have made her known, Shaw once asserted, 
had he been able to persuade her to make her name public, or 
at least to stick to the same pen name, instead of changing it 
for every book. Shaw also made one valuable acquaintance at 
this time through the accident of coming to lodge in the same 
house with him. This was Chichester Bell, of the family of 
that name distinguished for its inventive genius, a cousin of 
Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, and a nephew 
of Melville Bell, the inventor of the phonetic script known as 
Visible Speech. The author of the Standard Elocutionist, Chi- 
chester Bell's father, whom Shaw has described as by far the 
most majestic and imposing looking man that ever lived on 
this or any other planet, was the elocution professor in one of 
the schools attended by Shaw in his youth, the Wesleyan Con- 
nexional, now Wesley College, attendance at which, we may 
be sure from Shaw's case, by no means implied Methodism.* 
Although a qualified physician, Chichester Bell did not care for 
medical practice, and had gone to Germany, where he devoted 
himself to the study of chemistry and physics in the school 
of Helmholtz. Shaw's intercourse with Bell proved to be of 
great value to him. They studied Italian together, and while 

*Cf. John Bull's Other Island; Preface for Politicians, p. xvii. 



LONDON 

Shaw did not learn Italian with any final thoroughness, he 
learned a great deal else, chiefly about physics and pathology. 
It was through his association with Bell that he had come to 
read Tyndall and Trousseau's " Clinical Lectures." But Bell 
is to be remembered chiefly in relation to Shaw, as first calling 
his serious attention to Wagner. When Shaw discovered that 
Bell, whose judgment he held in high regard, considered Wagner 
a great composer, he at once bought a vocal score of Lohengrm, 
which chanced to be the only sample to be had at the Dublin 
music shops. From this moment dates the career of the re- 
markable music critic, who, in after life, swept Max Nordau 
off the field with his brilliant and unanswerable defence of the 
master-builder of modern music. For the first few bars of 
Lohengrin completely converted him. He immediately became, 
and ever afterwards remained, the " Perfect Wagnerite." 

The days of Shaw's youth before he went to London, as we 
have seen, were poisoned because he was taught to bow down 
to proprietary respectability. But even in his " unfortunate 
childhood," as he calls it, his heart was so unregenerate that he 
secretly hated, and rebelled against, mere respectability. In 
after life, he found it impossible to express the relief with which 
he discovered that his heart was all along right, and that the 
current respectability of to-day is " nothing but a huge inversion 
of righteous and scientific social order weltering in dishonesty, 
uselessness, selfishness, wanton misery, and idiotic waste of mag- 
nificent opportunity for noble and happy living." Not the 
evangelist's but the true reformer's zeal was always Shaw's. 
He had too much insight not to recognize the futility of the 
effort to reform individuals ; his humanitarian spirit was imper- 
sonal and found its freest manifestation in fulmination and 
revolt against social institutions. Concerning the unsocial sys- 
tem of setting class against class, and creed against creed, he 
has mordantly expressed himself : 

" If I had not suffered from these things in my childhood, 
perhaps I could keep my temper about them. To an out- 
sider there is nothing but comedy in the spectacle of a for- 
lorn set of Protestant merchants in a Catholic country, led 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

by a miniature plutocracy of stockholders, doctors and 
land agents, and flavoured by that section of the landed 
gentry who are too heavily mortgaged to escape to Lon- 
don, playing at being a court and an aristocracy with the 
assistance of the unfortunate exile who has been persuaded 
to accept the post of lord-lieutenant. To this pretence, 
involving a prodigious and continual lying, as to incomes 
and the social standing of relations, are sacrificed citizen- 
ship, self-respect, freedom of thought, sincerity of char- 
acter, and all the realities of life, its votaries gaining in 
return the hostile estrangement of the great mass of their 
fellow countrymen, and in their own class the supercilious 
snubs of those who have outdone them in pretension and 
the jealous envy of those whom they have outdone." 

The power which he found in Ireland religious enough to 
redeem him from this abomination of desolation was, fitly 
enough, the power of art. " My mother, as it happened, had 
a considerable musical talent. In order to exercise it seriously 
she had to associate with other people who had musical talent. 
My first childish doubt as to whether God could really be a good 
Protestant was suggested by my observation of the deplorable 
fact that the best voices available for combination with my 
mother's in the works of the great composers had been unac- 
countably vouchsafed to Roman Catholics. Even the divine 
gentility was presently called in question, for some of these 
vocalists were undeniably connected with retail trade." 

The situation in which Mrs. Shaw found herself offered no 
alternative. " There was no help for it ; if my mother was to 
do anything but sing silly ballads in drawing-rooms she had 
to associate herself on an entirely republican footing with people 
of like artistic gifts, without the smallest reference to creed or 
class. Nay, if she wished to take part in the masses of Haydn 
and Mozart, which had not then been forgotten, she must actu- 
ally permit herself to be approached by Roman Catholic priests 
and even, at their invitation, to enter that house of Belial, the 
Roman Catholic chapel (in Ireland the word church, as applied 
to a place of worship, denotes the Protestant denomination), 

36 






LONDON 

and take part in their services. All of which led directly to the 
discovery, hard to credit at first, that a Roman Catholic priest 
could be as agreeable and cultivated a person as a Protestant 
clergyman was supposed, in defiance of bitter experience, always 
to be ; and, in short, that the notion that the courtly distinctions 
of Dublin society corresponded to any real human distinctions 
was as ignorant as it was pernicious. If religion is that which 
binds men to one another, and irreligion that which sunders, 
then must I testify that I found the religion of my country in 
its musical genius and its irreligion in its churches and drawing- 
rooms." 

It was unerring common sense on the domestic plane, 
acquiescence in the sole solution of a flinty problem of life, 
which reveals Shaw's mother to us as the parent from whom 
he derived his determination, and his firm grip on practical 
affairs. In marked contradistinction to Lee, Mrs. Shaw made 
no concessions to fashion, firmly adhering to her master's old 
method in all its rigour. She behaved with complete inde- 
pendence of manner and speech in the mode of an Irish lady 
confronted with English people openly describing themselves as 
" middle-class." On account of this characteristic independence 
her first experiences in London were unfortunate and dishearten- 
ing. Not until she began to teach choirs in schools did she enter 
upon the road of complete success. The results she produced 
in these undertakings so pleased the inspectors — and more par- 
ticularly the parents at the prize distributions — that the head 
mistresses were sensible enough to let her go her own way. 
Quite a conclusive proof of her ability is found in the fact that 
this remarkable woman, vigorous and young-minded to-day 
although now in the seventies, worked at that famous modern 
institution, the North Collegiate School for Girls, until quite 
recently. For some years she sought to retire for the same 
reason that she stopped singing: to her Irish sense of humour 
there was an element almost of the ridiculous in a first-rate 
school having an old woman of between seventy and eighty wave 
a stick and conduct a choir. But D. Sophia Bryant, the prin- 
cipal and an old friend of hers, could not see her way to change 
for the better, and it was only within the last year or two 

37 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

that Mrs. Shaw retired from her post. No doubt Mrs. Bryant 
was right; for Mr. Shaw once remarked to me that it was not 
an easy matter to find a woman in England who perfectly com- 
bines the ability to take command in music with the knowledge 
of music as an artist, and not as a school-mistress who has super- 
ficially studied the subject for the sake of the certificates and 
the position. 

Mr. Shaw's mother is the most remarkably youthful person 
for her years I have ever known, with the possible exception of 
Mark Twain. I remember with vivid pleasure taking tea with 
her and her son one afternoon at her attractive little " retreat " 
in West London. Her eyes danced with suppressed mirth as she 
talked, and it was quite easy to see from whom her son derived 
his strong sense of humour. Mrs. Shaw told several delightful 
stories, one of which deserves repetition here. It seems that 
Mrs. Shaw is quite a medium and spiritualist, and takes a great 
deal of interest in communicating with " spirits " from the other 
world. One day she " called up " Mr. Shaw's sister and asked 
her what she thought of George being such a distinguished man. 
The spirit expressed surprise to hear the news. " But aren't 
you very proud of George? " queried his mother disappointedly. 
"Oh, yes," replied the spirit; "it's all very well in its way. 
But," she added, " that sort of thing doesn't count for anything 
up here " ! 

Many of Mr. Shaw's very distinctive traits are a direct in- 
heritance from his mother, modified, to be sure, by the differences 
in education, temperament and views of life. In her teaching 
of music, Mrs. Shaw deliberately displayed total insensibility to 
the petty dignities so cherished in English school-life. Upon 
visiting rectors, head mistresses, local " personages," and, in 
fact, upon all those who wished things done their own way, 
she made what her son called " perfectly indiscriminate on- 
slaughts." This aggressive assertion of her authority would 
often have made her position untenable, had it not been for her 
patent ability and unquestioned power of leadership. Her out- 
spoken frankness of manner and conduct, reproduced with such 
comically extravagant excess in her son, always won her the 
support of the discriminating : it was always the real " bigwigs " 

38 



LONDON 

who understood her manners. Mr. Shaw once said : " From 
my mother I derive my brains and character, which do her 
credit." I remember asking Mr. Shaw's mother one day to 
what she attributed her son's remarkable success in the world of 
letters. " Oh," she said, without a moment's hesitation, her eyes 
twinkling merrily the while, " the answer is quite simple. Of 
course, he owes it all to me." 

To his parents, his mother in particular, Mr. Shaw is also 
indebted for actual financial support during several years of 
an able-bodied young manhood. But he has warned us against 
supposing, because he is a man of letters, that he never tried to 
commit that " sin against his nature " called earning an honest 
living. We have followed his struggles from his fifteenth to 
his twentieth year — a period marking a social and spiritual 
growth on his part, he maintains, of several centuries. " I was 
born on the outskirts of an Irish city, where we lived exactly 
as people lived in the seventeenth century, except that there 
were gas-lamps and policemen in tall hats. In the course of my 
boyhood literature and music introduced me to the eighteenth 
century; and I was helped a step further through the appear- 
ance in our house of candles that did not need snuffing, an iron- 
framed pianoforte and typhoid sanitation. Finally, I crossed 
St. George's Channel into the decadence of the mid-nineteenth- 
century England of Anthony Trollope, and slowly made my 
way to the forefront of the age— the period of Ibsen, Nietzsche, 
the Fabian Society, the motor-car, and my own writings." 
Very slowly indeed did he make his way to the forefront of the 
age of Shavianism. He felt that he was a man of genius, and 
coolly classified himself as such. With no effort of the imagina- 
tion, and, likewise, with no prevision of his subsequent oft- 
repeated failures and the position of pecuniary dependence he 
was temporarily to occupy, he found himself looking upon Lon- 
don as his destiny. There is something at once amusing, inspir- 
ing, and pathetic in the spectacle of this bashful, raw, inex- 
perienced boy, fortified only by the confident consciousness of 
his yet unproved superiority to the " common run " of humanity, 
throwing himself thus headlong into London. 

Little of romantic glamour, fittingly enough, attaches to 

39 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Shaw's early struggles in London. No rapt listening to the 
songs of rival nightingales, Keats and Shelley, as with Brown- 
ing; no impetuous and clandestine marriage, as with Sheridan; 
no roses and raptures of la vie Boheme, as with Zola. It is, 
instead, for the most part a tale of consistent literary drudgery, 
rewarded by continual and repeated failures. The rare and 
individual style of the satirist, the deft fingering of the drama- 
tist were wholly undeveloped, and even unsuspected, during this 
tentative period in his career. He turned his hand to various 
undertakings — to musical criticism, to versifying, to blank- 
versifying, to novel-writing; but all equally to no purpose. 
Asked once what was his first real success, he replied : " Never 
had any. Success in that sense is a thing that comes to you 
and takes your breath away. What came to me was invariably 
failure. By the time I wore it down I knew too much to care 
about either failure or success. Life is like a battle; you have 
to fire a thousand bullets to hit one man. I was too busy firing 
to bother about the scoring. As to whether I ever despaired, 
you will find somewhere in my works this line : ' He who has 
never hoped can never despair.' I am not a fluctuator." His 
self-sufficiency, even at this time, was proof against all discour- 
agement. Perhaps he found consolation also in the saying: " He 
who is down need fear no fall." 

Shaw never experienced any poverty of spirit, of determina- 
tion, or of will; his poverty was pecuniary only. Until the 
time of his marriage he remained secure from the accusation 
of being the mould of fashion or the glass of form. While the 
Shaw of matrimonial respectability bears all the marks of his 
wife's civilizing influence in the matter of a costume de rigueur 
— fashionable clothes, patent-leather boots, and even, on rare 
occasions, a " stiff " collar — his dress in the late seventies and 
for twenty years thereafter was usually, like that of March- 
banks, strikingly anarchic. His outward appearance, as some- 
one unkindly remarked, suggested that he might be a fairly re- 
spectable plasterer ! " Now," said Shaw in 1896, " when people 
reproach me with the unfashionableness of my attire, they forget 
that to me it seems like the raiment of Solomon in all his glory 
by contrast with the indescribable seediness of those days, when 

40 



LONDON 

I trimmed my cuffs to the quick with scissors, and wore a tall 
hat and soi-disant black coat, green with decay." But the pov- 
erty of which this attire was the outward, visible sign was 
" shortness of cash," as numerous personal reminiscences show. 
From the depressing and devitalizing effects of " real poverty " 
he was strong enough to free himself, as the following auto- 
biographical confidence clearly evidences: 

" Whilst I am not sure that the want of money lames a 
poor man more than the possession of it lames a rich one, 
I am quite sure that the class which has the pretensions and 
prejudices and habits of the rich without its money, and 
the poverty of the poor without the freedom to avow 
poverty — in short, the people who don't go to the theatre 
because they cannot afford the stalls and are ashamed to 
be seen in the gallery — are the worst-off of all. To be on 
the down grade from the haute bourgeoisie and the landed 
gentry to the nadir at which the younger son's great- 
grandson gives up the struggle to keep up appearances; 
to have the pretence of a culture without the reality of it ; 
to make three hundred pounds a year look like eight hun- 
dred pounds in Ireland or Scotland ; or five hundred pounds 
look like one thousand pounds in London; to be educated 
neither at the Board School and the Birkbeck nor at the 
University, but at some rotten private adventure academy 
for the sons of gentlemen; to try to maintain a select 
circle by excluding all the frankly poor people from it, 
and then find that all the rest of the world excludes you — 
that is poverty at its most damnable; and yet from that 
poverty a great deal of our literature and journalism has 
sprung. Think of the frightful humiliation of the boy 
Dickens in the blacking warehouse, and his undying resent- 
ment of his mother's wanting him to stay there — all on 
a false point of genteel honour. Think of Trollope, at an 
upper-class school with holes in his trousers, because his 
father could not bring himself to dispense with a man- 
servant. Ugh ! Be a tramp or be a millionaire — it matters 
little which: what does matter is being a poor relation of 

41 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the rich; and that is the very devil. Fortunately, that 
sort of poverty can be cured by simply shaking off its 
ideas — cutting your coat according to your cloth, and not 
according to the cloth of your father's second cousin, the 
baronet. As I was always more or less in rebellion against 
those ideas, and finally shook them off pretty completely, I 
cannot say that I have much experience of real poverty — ■ 
quite the contrary." * 

With that comic seriousness which always passes for out- 
rageous prevarication, Shaw has related that during the nine 
years from 1876 to 1885 his adventures in literature netted him 
the princely sum of exactly six pounds. At first he " devilled " 
for a musical critic ; but his notices " led to the stoppage of 
all the concert advertisements and ruined the paper " — " which 
died — partly of me." He also began a Passion Play in blank 
verse, with the mother of the hero represented as a termagant. 
Ah, if that play had only been finished ! But Shaw never car- 
ried through these customary follies of young authors, unless we 
agree with those who classify his novels as follies of a green 
boy. "I was always, fortunately for me," Mr. Shaw once 
remarked, " a failure as a trifler. All my attempts at Art for 
Art's sake broke down ; it was like hammering tenpenny nails into 
sheets of notepaper." 

One finds it an easy matter to believe him when he tells us, 
not only that he was provincial, unpresentable, but, more broadly 
speaking, that he was in an impossible position. " I was a 
foreigner — an Irishman, the most foreign of all foreigners when 
he has not gone through the University mill. I was . . . not 
uneducated; but, unfortunately, what I knew was exactly what 
the educated Englishman did not know, and what he knew — I 
either didn't know or didn't believe." Six pounds was a very 
small allowance for a growing young man, even a struggling 
author, to live on for nine years. Even if we match him with 
equal scepticism, at least we can discover, as will be seen, no 

* Who I Am, and What I Think, by G. Bernard Shaw. Part I.— In the 
Candid Friend, May 11th, 1901. 

42 



LONDON 

error in his arithmetical calculations. After Shaw had hounded 
the musical critic and his paper to the grave, London absolutely 
refused to tolerate him on any terms. As the nine years pro- 
gressed, he had one article accepted by Mr. G. R. Sims, who 
had just started a short-lived paper called One and All. " It 
brought me fifteen shillings. Full of hope and gratitude, I 
wrote a really brilliant contribution. That finished me." Dur- 
ing this period, he received his greatest fee — five pounds — for 
a patent medicine advertisement, a circumstance which may 
give some colour to Dr. Meyerfeld's early denunciation of Shaw 
as a " quacksalver." On another occasion, a publisher asked 
Shaw for some verses to fit some old blocks which he had bought 
up for a school prize book. " I wrote a parody of the thing 
he wanted and sent it as a j oke. To my stupefaction he thanked 
me seriously, and paid me five shillings." Shaw was so much 
touched by the gift of five shillings for his parody that he wrote 
the generous publisher a serious verse for another picture. 
With the startling result that the publisher took it as a joke in 
questionable taste ! Is it any wonder that Shaw's career as 
a versifier abruptly ended? 

The analysis of the artistic temperament which Shaw puts in 
the mouth of John Tanner — an analysis which Mr. Robert 
Loraine finds to smack more of mania than of insincerity — ■ 
is a cynical and distorted picture at best. And yet it gives 
us a refracted glimpse of the position which Shaw himself 
deliberately assumed. " The true artist," Tanner rattles on, 
" will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his 
mother drudge for his living at seventy, sooner than work 
at anything but his art. To women he is half vivisector, half 
vampire. He gets into intimate relations with them to study 
them, to strip the mask of convention from them, to surprise 
their inmost secrets, knowing that they have the power to rouse 
his deepest creative energies, to rescue him from his cold reason, 
to make him see visions and dream dreams, to inspire him, as he 
calls it. He persuades women that they may do this for their 
own purpose, whilst he really means them to do it for his." 
After various attempts " to earn an honest living," Shaw gave 
up trying to commit that sin against his nature, as he puts it. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

His last attempt was in 1879, we are told, " when a company 
was formed in London to exploit an ingenious invention by Mr. 
Thomas Alva Edison — a much too ingenious invention, as it 
proved, being nothing less than a telephone of such stentorian 
efficiency that it bellowed your most private communications all 
over the house instead of whispering them with some sort of 
discretion." His interest in physics, his acquaintance with the 
works of Tyndall and Helmholtz, and his friendship with Mr. 
Chichester Bell, of which mention has been made, gave him, he 
asserts, the customary superiority over those about him which 
he is in the habit of claiming in all the relations of life. While 
he remained with the company only a few months, he discharged 
his duties in a manner, which, according to his own outrageous 
and comically prevaricative assertion, " laid the foundation of 
Mr. Edison's London reputation." 

After this experience, he began, as he says, to lay the founda- 
tions of his own fortune " by the most ruthless disregard of all 
the quack duties which lead the peasant lad of fiction to the 
White House, and harness the real peasant boy to the plough 
until he is finally swept, as rubbish, into the workhouse." Far 
from being a " peasant lad," who climbed manfully upward 
from the lowest rung of the social ladder, he was in reality the 
son of a gentleman who had an income of at least three figures 
(four, if you count in dollars instead of pounds), and was second 
cousin to a baronet. " I never climbed any ladder : I have 
achieved eminence by sheer gravitation; and I hereby warn all 
peasant lads not to be duped by my pretended example into 
regarding their present servitude as a practicable first step to 
a celebrity so dazzling that its subject cannot even suppress his 
own bad novels." 

Shaw seems intent upon convincing us that, like the artist of 
his own description, he was an atrocious egotist in his disregard 
of others ; but we must take his confessions with the customary 
grain of salt. " I was an able-bodied and able-minded young 
man in the strength of my youth ; and my family, then heavily 
embarrassed, needed my help urgently. That I should have 
chosen to be a burden to them instead was, according to all the 
conventions of peasant fiction, monstrous. Well, without a blush 

44 



LONDON 

I embraced the monstrosity. I did not throw myself into the 
struggle for life : I threw my mother into it. I was not a staff 
to my father's old age : I hung on to his coat tails. His reward 
was to live just long enough to read a review of one of these 
silly novels written in an obscure journal by a personal friend 
of my own (now eminent in literature as Mr. John Mackinnon 
Robertson) prefiguring me to some extent as a considerable 
author. I think, myself, that this was a handsome reward, far 
better worth having than a nice pension from a dutiful son 
struggling slavishly for his parents' bread in some sordid trade. 
Handsome or not, it was the only return he ever had for the 
little pension he contrived to export from Ireland for his family. 
My mother reinforced it by drudging in her elder years at the 
art of music which she had followed in her prime freely for love. 
I only helped to spend it. People wondered at my heartlessness : 
one young and romantic lady had the courage to remonstrate 
openly and indignantly with me, ' for the which,' as Pepys said 
of the shipwright's wife who refused his advances, ' I did respect 
her.' Callous as Comus to moral babble, I steadily wrote my five 
pages a day and made a man of myself (at my mother's ex- 
pense) instead of a slave." 

In Shaw's opinion, his brain constituted the sum and sub- 
stance of his riches. The projection and exposition of his ex- 
perience came to be the most urgent need and object of his life. 
He recognized a higher duty than merely earning his living: 
the fulfilment of his individual destiny. He resolved to become 
a writer. In this resolve to dedicate all his powers to the art of 
self-expression, lies the explanation of his strange words : " My 
mother worked for my living instead of preaching that it was 
my duty to work for hers; therefore, take off your hat to her 
and blush." * 

Although it was a " frightful squeeze " at times, Shaw was 
not wholly destitute. A suit of evening clothes and the knack 
of playing a " simple accompaniment at sight more congenially 
to a singer than most amateurs," gave him " for a fitful year 

* The Irrational Knot, Preface to the American edition of 1905, Bren- 
tanos, N. Y. 

45 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

or so," the entree into the better circle of musical society in 
London. 

In this latter day of his assertion that money controls moral- 
ity, Shaw is perfectly consistent in speaking of his poverty and 
quotidian shabbiness as the two " disgusting faults " of his 
youth. But at the time he did not recognize them as faults, 
because he could not help them. " I therefore tolerated the 
gross error that poverty, though an inconvenience and a trial, 
is not a sin and a disgrace: and I stood for my self-respect 
on the things I had: probity, ability, knowledge of art, labori- 
ousness, and whatever else came cheaply to me." A certain pride 
of birth, a consciousness of worthy ancestry, also sustained him, 
and helped him to triumph over circumstance. It was this same 
feeling which gave him suavity and poise during the later cam- 
paigns of his revolutionary Socialism, and saved him from the 
excesses, the blind fur}', of the mere proletarian. He had a 
magnificent library in Bloomsbury, a priceless picture-gallery in 
Trafalgar Square, and another at Hampton Court, without any 
servants to look after or rent to pay. During these years 
Shaw's gain in the cultivation of his musical and artistic tastes 
more than compensated for his lack of the advantages of wealth. 
Nor were his essays in literature and criticism — I do not refer 
to his playful dilettantism — profitless in any real sense. It is 
true that innumerable articles were consistently returned to 
him; and yet he went his way undismayed, slowly saturating 
himself with Italian art from Mantegna to Michael Angelo, 
with the best music from London to Bayreuth. And while 
London had not " caught his tone," musical or otherwise, at 
this time, the day was to come in which he should reap the 
reward for his critical knowledge of art and music, for the 
rare and individual style which he was slowly perfecting. 

To the student of Shaw as the litterateur — the highwayman 
who " held up " so many different forms of art — the chief in- 
terest of this period is to be found in the five novels which he 
wrote during the five years from 1879 to 1883 — an average of 
one a year. His first novel, written in 1879, and called, " with 
merciless fitness " as Shaw says, Immaturity, was never pub- 
lished ; and we are told that even the rats were unable to finish 

46 






„ 







From a photo by] [Window <(■ Grove. 

SHAW AT THE AGE OF TWENTY-THREE. 
From a photograph taken in London, July 4th, 1 879. 

[Facing p. 46 



LONDON 

it. George Meredith, the novelist, who was a reader and literary 
adviser for the publishing firm of Chapman and Hall, London, 
from 1860 to 1897, rejected the manuscript of Immaturity, sans 
phrase — quickly disposing of it with a laconic " No." The 
remaining four have all been published, in magazines and in 
book-form, either in England or America. Shaw " turned them 
out," one each year, with unvarying regularity and also with 
unvarying result: refusal by the publishers. That six pounds 
which Shaw earned in nine years must certainly have gone a 
long way — as postage stamps. 

Mr. Shaw has carefully explained to us why his works were 
refused by publisher after publisher. And I find no reason to 
question his explanation to the effect that it was the world-old 
struggle between literary conscience and public taste. The more 
he progressed towards his own individual style, and ventured 
upon the freer expression of his own ideas, the more he disap- 
pointed the " grave, elderly lovers of literature." As to the 
regular novel-publishing houses, whose readers were merely on 
the scent of popularity, they gave him, we are told, no quarter 
at all. " And so between the old stool of my literary conscien- 
tiousness and the new stool of a view of life that did not reach 
publishing point in England until about ten years later, when 
Ibsen drove it in, my novels fell to the ground." 

We may omit for the present any discussion of the validity of 
Mr. Shaw's claims as a " fictionist." But the story of the cir- 
cumstances under which the novels finally found their way into 
print is certainly worthy of narration. It was in 1882 that 
Henry George, by a speech during one of the public meetings 
at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, fired Shaw 
to enlist, in Heine's phrase, " as a soldier in the Liberative War 
of Humanity." * About this time a body, styling itself the 
Land Reform Union, which still survives as the English Land 
Restoration League, was formed to propagate Georgite Land 
Nationalization. The official mouthpiece of this body was called, 
if memory serves, the Christian Socialist, which did not last 
long, owing, as Shaw said, to a lack of Christians. Shaw made 

* Cf. Chapter IV., The Fabian Society. 

47 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

a number of lifelong friends through his connection with this 
organization, which he joined soon after its formation. Chief 
among these may be mentioned James Leigh Joynes, Sydney 
Olivier and Henry Hyde Champion; other acquaintances were 
two Christian Socialist clergymen — Stewart Headlam and 
Symes of Nottingham. Shaw and Symes frequently indulged 
in wordy warfare over the respective merits of Socialism and 
Land Nationalization as universal panaceas for social evils. 
Symes argued that Land Nationalization would settle every- 
thing, to which Shaw cleverly and characteristically replied, as 
he once told me, that if capital were still privately appropriated 
Symes would remain " the chaplain of a pirate ship." It is proof 
of Shaw's fundamental Socialism that he still regards this as 
a very fair description of the position of a clergyman under 
our present system. 

Through his association with James Leigh Joynes and the 
Salt family it is not difficult to trace Shaw's initial feeling for 
Shelley, and the origin and growth of his humanitarian and 
vegetarian principles. At this time Joynes had just been de- 
prived of his Eton post because he had made a tour in Ireland 
with Henry George and been arrested with him under the Coer- 
cion Act by the police, who did not understand Land Nation- 
alization and supposed the two to be emissaries of the Clan na 
Gael. Henry Salt, another Eton master, to whom Joynes' sister 
was married, was not only, like Joynes, a vegetarian, a humani- 
tarian, a Shelleyan, but a De Quinceyite as well. Being a born 
revolutionist, he loathed Eton; and as soon as he had saved 
enough to live with a Thoreau-like simplicity in a labourer's 
cottage in the country, he threw up his post and shook the dust 
of Eton from his feet. In company with Joynes, Shaw visited 
the Salts once before they left Eton. It is interesting in this 
connection to read an absurdly amusing description, written by 
Shaw, of his first visit to them in the country at Tilford — an 
article entitled A Sunday on the Surrey Hills* 

There were no children in the family ; and one of Shaw's chief 
amusements while visiting the Salts was to play endless piano- 



*The Pall Mall Gazette, April 28th, 1888. 

48 



LONDON 

forte duets with Mrs. Salt, on what he called " the noisiest grand 
piano that ever descended from Eton to a Surrey cottage." 
Salt found his metier, not in Socialism, but in humanitarianism. 
He founded the Humanitarian League, of which he is still secre- 
tary. This association of Shaw with the Salt family eventuated 
in close and warm mutual friendship. Many were the visits 
Shaw paid them at this time and in later years. It was in the 
heather on Limpsfield Common, during his visits to them at 
Oxford, that he wrote several of the scenes of his Plays, Pleasant 
and Unpleasant. 

In this association may be discovered the real link between 
Shaw and the Humanitarians. For twenty-five years Shaw 
was a " cannibal," according to his own damning verdict. For 
the remainder of his life he has been a strict vegetarian, pro- 
fessing his principles with a comic force equalled only by the 
rigour with which he puts them into practice. While the most 
of men in their boyhood have walked about with a cheap edition 
of Shelley in their pockets, it is a tiresome trait in Shaw, 
someone has slightingly remarked, that he has never taken this 
cheap edition out. Shelley it was, certainly, who first called 
Shaw's attention to the " infamy of his habits." And it is also 
true that Shaw has never discarded his vegetarian principles, 
never repudiated Shelley's humane views and ideals of life. " It 
may require some reflection," Shaw once wrote, " to see that high 
feeling brings high thinking; but we already know, without 
reflection, that high thinking brings what is called plain living. 
In this century the world has produced two men — Shelley and 
Wagner — in whom intense poetic feeling was the permanent 
state of their consciousness, and who were certainly not re- 
strained by any religious, conventional or prudential consid- 
erations from indulging themselves to the utmost of their 
opportunities. Far from being gluttonous, drunken, cruel or 
debauched, they were apostles of vegetarianism and water- 
drinking ; had an utter horror of violence and ' sport ' ; were 
notable champions of the independence of women; and were, in 
short, driven into open revolution against the social evils which 
the average sensual man finds extremely suitable to him. So 
much is this the case that the practical doctrine of these two 

49 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

arch-voluptuaries always presents itself to ordinary persons as 
a saint-like asceticism." * 

At the time of the mutual intimacy of Joynes, Shaw, and 
the Salts, and their unhesitating approval and admiration of 
Shelley, early in the eighties, vegetarian restaurants began to be 
established here and there throughout the country. These scat- 
tered restaurants, Mr. Shaw once remarked in connection with 
his own conversion to the faith of Shelley, " made vegetarian- 
ism possible for a man too poor to be catered for." f It is 
hardly open to doubt that, while Shelley first called Shaw's 
attention to vegetarianism, it was Joynes and Salt who first 
confirmed him in the belief, which soon became solidified into 
a hard-and-fast principle, that " the enormity of eating the 
scorched corpses of animals — cannibalism with its heroic dish 
omitted — becomes impossible the moment it becomes consciously 
instead of thoughtlessly habitual." 

Another member of this coterie, in which there was no ques- 
tion of Henry George and Karl Marx, but a great deal of 
Walt Whitman and Thoreau, was the now well-known Socialist 
and author, Edward Carpenter, whose Towards Democracy 
and other works are a faithful reflex of the man. It became 
the habit of these early apostles of " the simple life " to wear 
sandals ; Carpenter even wore his out of doors. He had taught 
the secret of their manufacture to a workman friend of his at 
Millthorpe, a village near Sheffield, where he resided. Not 
unfittingly, the habitual wearer of moccasins, Carpenter, was 
always called The Noble Savage by the members of this con- 
genial and delightful circle. The noisy grand piano grew 
noisier than ever when Shaw and Carpenter visited the Salts — 
Carpenter, like Shaw, revelling in pianoforte duets with Mrs. 
Salt. 

The death of Joynes was a great grief to these close friends, 

* The Religion of the Pianoforte. In the Fortnightly Review, February, 
1894. 

•j- Mr. Shaw's confessions in regard to his change from " cannibalism " 
to vegetarianism are perhaps best given in an article in the Pall Mall 
Gazette for January 26th, 1886, entitled, Failures of Inept Vegetarians. 
By an Expert. 

50 



LONDON 

especially to Shaw. I am convinced that those mordantly 
incisive and penetrating attacks which Shaw, in after life, made 
upon modern surgery and modern medicine find their animus in 
his resentment of the manner of Joynes' death. Certain pas- 
sages from The Philanderer and The Conflict of Science and 
Common Sense thus become more humanly comprehensible. The 
literary activities of this circle, so sadly broken up by the death 
of Joynes, were by no means confined solely to Carpenter and 
Shaw. Joynes himself left a volume of excellent translations 
of the revolutionary songs of the German revolutionists of 1848 
— Herwegh, Freiligrath and others.* Salt, whom Shaw has 
occasionally quoted, has published several monographs, his 
tastes and predilections revealing themselves in the names of 
Shelley, James Thomson, Jeffries and De Quincey. 

The Socialist revival of the eighties is responsible for the final 
publication of Shaw's novels. As long as he kept sending them 
to the publishers, " they were as safe from publicity as they 
would have been in the fire." But as soon as he flung them aside 
as failures, with a strange perversity, " they almost instantly 
began to show signs of life." Among the crop of propagandist 
magazines which accompanied the Socialistic revival of the 
eighties was one called To-Day — not the present paper of that 
name, but one of the many " To-Days which are now Yester- 
days." It was printed by Henry Hyde Champion, but there 
were several joint editors, of brief tenure, among whom were 
Belfort Bax, the well-known Socialist, and James Leigh Joynes. 
Although publishing his novels in this magazine, which it seems 
paid nothing for contributions, " seemed a matter of no more 
consequence than stuffing so many window-panes with them," 
Shaw nevertheless offered up An Unsocial Socialist and Cashel 
Byron's Profession on this unstable altar of his political faith. t 

* For a brief and illuminative biographical sketch of James Leigh 
Joynes, compare Shaw's review of his book, Songs of a Revolutionary 
Epoch, in the Pall Mall Gazette, April 16th, 1888. 

f The first instalment of An Unsocial Socialist appeared in To-Day, a 
"monthly magazine of Scientific Socialism," New Series, Vol. I. (January- 
June, 1884), March number, pp. 205-220. The final instalment appeared 
in New Series, Vol. II., of the same magazine (July-December, 1884), 
December number, pp. 543-579. The novel appeared under Shaw's name, 

51 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

With one noteworthy exception, there were no visible results 
from the serial publications of these two novels. Shaw's novels, 
not uncharacteristically, appeared in inverse order of composi- 
tion; and number five, An Unsocial Socialist, made Shaw ac- 
quainted with William Morris, an acquaintance which, as we 
shall see, ripened later into genuine and sincere friendship. To 
Shaw's surprise, as he tells us, William Morris had been reading 
the monthly instalments with a certain relish — a proof to Shaw's 
mind " how much easier it is to please a great man than a little 
one, especially when you share his politics." 

Another propagandist magazine, created after the passing of 
To-day, and called Our Corner, was published by Mrs. Annie 
Besant, with whom Shaw had become acquainted about the time 
he joined the Fabian Society. " She was an incorrigible bene- 
factress," Shaw says, " and probably revenged herself for my 
freely expressed scorn for this weakness by drawing on her 
private account to pay me for my jejune novels." Up to this 
time, all Shaw's literary productions seemed to have the deadly 
effect of driving their media of circulation to an early grave. 
After The Irrational Knot and Love Among the Artists had run 
through its pages in serial form, Our Corner likewise succumbed 
to the inevitable.* 

To Shaw's expressed regret, Cashel Byron's Profession found 
one staunch admirer at least. This was Henry Hyde Champion, 
who had thrown up a commission in the Army at the call of 
Socialism. This admiration for Shaw's realistic exposure of 
pugilism — Mr. Shaw once told me that he always considered 
admiration of Cashel Byron's Profession the mark of a fool! 

and is marked at the close (page 579), "The End," and dated beneath, 
" London, 1883," the date of composition. Cashel Byron's Profession ran in 
the same magazine through the years 1885 and 1886, beginning in New 
Series, Vol. III. (January- June, 1885), April number, pp. 145-160, and 
concluding in Vol. V. (January-June, 1886), March number, pp. 67-73. 

* The Irrational Knot began in Vol. V. (January-June, 1885), pp. 229-240, 
ran through Vols. VI., VII. and VIII., and was concluded in Vol. IX. 
(January-June, 1887), ending on page 82. Love Among the Artists opened 
in Vol. X. (July-December, 1887) of the same magazine, ran through 
Vol. XI., and was concluded in Vol. XII. (July-December, 1888), on page 
352. It is marked at the close (page 352), " The End, London, 1881 "—the 
date of composition. 

52 






LONDON 

— had very momentous consequences. Champion, it seems, had 
an " unregenerate taste for pugilism " — a pugnacious survival 
of his abdicated adjutancy. " He liked ' Cashel Byron ' so much 
that he stereotyped the pages of To-Bay which it occupied, 
and in spite of my remonstrances, hurled on the market a mis- 
shapen shilling edition. My friend, Mr. William Archer, re- 
viewed it prominently ; the Saturday Review, always susceptible 
in those days to the arts of self-defence, unexpectedly declared 
it the novel of the age; Mr. W. E. Henley wanted to have it 
dramatized; Stevenson wrote a letter about it . . . ; the other 
papers hastily searched their waste-paper baskets for it and 
reviewed it, mostly rather disappointedly ; the public preserved 
its composure and did not seem to care." This letter of Steven- 
son's to William Archer,* written at Saranac Lake in the winter 
of 1887-8, contains some very interesting criticism, as a quota- 
tion will show: 

" What am I to say ? I have read your friend's book 
with singular relish. If he has written any other, I beg you 
will let me see it ; and if he has not, I beg him to lose no 
time in supplying the deficiency. It is full of promise, but 
I should like to know his age. There are things in it that 
are very clever, to which I attach no importance ; it is the 
shape of the age. And there are passages, particularly 
the rally in the presence of the Zulu King, that show 
genuine and remarkable narrative talent — a talent that few 
will have the wit to understand, a talent of strength, spirit, 
capacity, sufficient vision, and sufficient self-sacrifice, which 
last is the chief point in a narrative." 

And at the end of his next letter to Mr. Archer (February, 
1888), he says " Tell Shaw to hurry up. I want another." 

Neither Shaw nor Champion earned anything from that first 
shilling edition, " which began with a thousand copies, but 
proved immortal." Shortly after this first edition was ex- 
hausted, the publishing house of Walter Scott and Company 

* Published, in part, in The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. II., 
edited by Sidney Colvin. 

53 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

placed a revised shilling edition on the market; and the book 
was also published in New York at about the same time (Harper 
and Brothers, New York, 1887). Brentanos, New York, 
brought out an edition in 1897, and this was followed in 1899 
by an edition of An Unsocial Socialist. 

The immediate cause of these editions was the temporary 
interest in the works of Mr. Shaw, occasioned by Mr. Richard 
Mansfield's notable productions of Arms and the Man and The 
Devil's Disciple. The publication of Plays, Pleasant and Un- 
pleasant, in two volumes, by H. S. Stone and Company, of 
Chicago, followed shortly afterwards. In 1904, when Mr. 
Daly's production of Candida created such a stir in America, 
Mr. Volney Streamer, of the firm of Brentanos, a Shaw enthusi- 
ast of many years' standing, used his influence to have these 
two books reprinted. None of Shaw's novels are copyright in 
America, so that he has never, it appears, reaped the reward 
of the moderate, although intermittent, vogue which his novels 
have enjoyed in that country. It is a fact of common knowl- 
edge that Shaw prefers to be judged by his later work; but 
the demand in America for these novels has been so large that 
they are likely to be published for years yet to come. In 1889 
or 1890, it must have been, Shaw happened to notice that his 
novels were " raging in America," and that the list of book sales 
in one of the United States was headed by a novel entitled 
An Unsocial Socialist. In the preface to the " Authorized Edi- 
tion " of Cashel Byron's Profession, which contains the history 
of the life and death of the novels, Mr. Shaw says, " As it was 
clearly unfair that my own American publishers (H. S. Stone 
and Company) should be debarred by delicacy towards me from 
exploiting the new field of derelict fiction, I begged them to 
make the most of their inheritance ; and with my full approval 
Opus 3, called 4 Love Among the Artists ' (a paraphrase of the 
forgotten line ' Love Among the Roses ') followed." f 

* The New York Herald contained the statement that " Brentanos have 
done a service to literature in reprinting two of Shaw's novels that are 
strangely unfamiliar to the American public." 

f This book was published in 1900, followed in 1901 by the "Authorized 
Edition" of Cashel Byron's Profession (also published by H. S. Stone and 



LONDON 

This third act of Shaw's " tragedy," as he calls it, is by no 
means the end of the play; as with Thomas Hardy's endless 
dramas, the curtain may never be rung down. One might 
imagine that Shaw, the Socialist, required the patience of a Job 
and the self -repression of a stoic to enable him to restrain his 
anger over the diversion of the rewards of his talent from his 
own to the pockets of Capitalist publishers, free of all obliga- 
tion to the author. But he accepts his fate with breezy 
philosophy. 

" I may say," he wrote to Harper and Brothers (who had 
published his Cashel ByrorCs Profession) in November, 1899, 
" that I entirely disagree with the ideas of twenty years ago 
as to the ' piratical ' nature of American republications of non- 
copyright books. Unlike most authors, I am enough of an 
economist to know that unless an American publisher acquires 
copyright he can no more make a profit at my expense than 
he can at Shakspere's by republishing Hamlet. The English 
nation, when taxed for the support of the author by a price 
which includes author's royalties, whilst the American nation 
escapes that burden, may have a grievance against the Amer- 
ican nation, but that is a very different thing from a grievance 
of the author against the American publisher." * 

" Suffice it to say here that there can be no doubt now that 
the novels so long left for dead in the forlorn-hope magazines 
of the eighties have arisen and begun to propagate themselves 

Co.), which contains the above-quoted remark. In the autumn of 1901, 
Grant Richards, at the time the English publisher of almost all of Mr. 
Shaw's works, also brought out a revised edition of Cashel Byron's Profes- 
sion. In the autumn of 1904 The Irrational Knot was for the first time 
published in book form by Archibald Constable and Co., Mr. Shaw's Eng- 
lish publishers at present. In 1905 The Irrational Knot was published in 
America by Brentanos. 

* On publishing his Cashel Byron's Profession, Harper and Brothers sent 
Mr. Shaw ten pounds in recognition of his moral right as an author to 
share any profits the book might yield. There were then no international 
copyright laws in force, and the works of foreign authors were not pro- 
tected in America. When Mr. Shaw learned that this same book had been 
republished by another American house, he sent back to Harper and 
Brothers the ten pounds, with thanks for its use, explaining that since 
the book had been republished by another firm, even his moral claim to 
recognition by the original American publishers had lapsed. 

55 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

vigorously throughout the New World at the rate of a dollar 
and a half per copy, free of all royalty to the flattered author." 
He begs for absolution from blame " if these exercises of a raw 
apprentice break loose again and insist on their right to live. 
The world never did know chalk from cheese in the matter of 
art ; and, after all, since it is only the young and old who have 
time to read — the rest being too busy living — my exercises may 
be fitter for the market than my masterpieces." 

In 1883, when the last of the novels of his nonage was com- 
pleted, Shaw was still striking in the dark. He had not yet 
found the opening into the light, the portal giving out from the 
stuffy world of imaginative lying into the great world of real 
life — a life of pleasurable activity, strenuous endeavour, and 
high achievement. He found his way out by following an insist- 
ent summons — the clarion call of Henry George. And when, 
having doffed the swaddling clothes of romance, he emerged 
from the dim retreat of his imagination, it was to find himself 
standing in the dazzling light of a new day — the day of Social- 
ism, of the Fabian Society, and — of George Bernard Shaw. 



56 



THE NOVELIST 



"London was not ripe for me. Nor was I ripe for London. I was in 
an impossible position. I was a foreigner — an Irishman, the most foreign 
of all foreigners when he has not gone through the University mill. I was 
. . . not uneducated; but, unfortunately, what I knew was exactly what 
the educated Englishman didn't know or didn't believe." — George Bernard 
Shaw: an Interview. In The Chap-Book, November, 1896. 



y 



CHAPTER III 

AS a young man of twenty-four, Bernard Shaw began to 
evolve a moral code. He perceived in those phases of 
contemporary existence which either intimately touched his life 
or daily challenged his critical scrutiny, a shocking discrepancy 
between things as they are and things as they should be. He 
has never been a " whole hogger," like Pope or Omar Khayyam : 
he neither believed that whatever is is right nor wished to 
shatter this sorry scheme of things entire. The arch-foe of 
idealism, he paradoxically prefaced his attack by hoisting the 
banner of an ideal. Shaw has spent more than a quarter of a 
century in formulating his ideal, in attempting to concretize his 
individual code into a universal ethical system. 

Let us not fall into the crass error of supposing that Shaw 
has never come under the spell of the fascination of idealism 
and romance. Shaw the realist paid his toll to Romance before 
the moral passion ever dawned upon his soul. Just as Zola 
always bore the brand of Hugo, just as Ibsen worked his way 
through romance to real life, so Shaw found his feet in realism 
only after tripping several times over the novels of a romantic 
imagination. Shaw's novels are the products of a riotous and 
fanciful imagination, if not, as he dubs them, the compounds 
of ignorance and intuition. In a celebrated discussion with Mr. 
W. H. Mallock, we have Shaw's frank confession: 

" We are both novelists, privileged as such to make fancy \S 
pictures of Society and individuals, and to circulate them 
as narratives of things that have actually been; and the 
critics will gravely find fault with our fictitious law, or our 
fictitious history, or our fictitious psychology, if we depart 
therein from perfect verisimilitude. Why have we this 
extraordinary privilege? Because, I submit, we are both 
natural-born tellers Of the thing that is not. Not, observe, 

59 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

vulgar impostors who lie for motives of gain, to extort 
alms, to conceal or excuse discreditable facts in our history, 
to glorify ourselves, to facilitate the sale of a horse, or to 
avoid unpleasantness. All humanity lies like that, more or 
less. But Mr. Mallock and I belong to those who lie for 
the sheer love of lying, who forsake everything else for it, 
who put into it laborious extra touches of art for which 
there is no extra pay, whose whole life, if it were looked 
into closely enough, would be found to have been spent 
more in the world of fiction than of reality." * 

Shaw has somewhere placed on record his boast that such 
insight as he had in criticism was due to the fact that he ex- 
hausted romanticism before he was ten years old. " Your pop- 
ular novelists," he contemptuously declared, " are now gravely 
writing the stories I told to myself before I replaced my first 
set of teeth. Some day I will try to found a genuine psychology 
of fiction by writing down the history of my imagined life, 
duels, battles, love-affairs with queens and all. They say that 
man in embryo is successively a fish, a bird, a mammal, and so 
on, before he develops into a man. Well, popular novel-writing 
is the fish stage of your Jonathan Swift. I have never been 
so dishonest as to sneer at our popular novelists. I once went 
on like that myself. Why does the imaginative man always end 
by writing comedy if only he has also a sense of reality ? Clearly 
because of the stupendous irony of the contrast between his 
imaginary adventures and his real circumstances and powers. 
At night, a conquering hero, an Admirable Crichton, a Don 
Juan; by day, a cowardly little brat cuffed by his nurse for 
stealing lumps of sugar. . . . My real name," he added, " is 
Alnaschar." f 

As a matter of fact, Shaw has anticipated his exhaustion of 
romanticism by some seventeen years. It was not until he fin- 
ished the novels of his nonage that he could justly boast of 

* On Mr. Mallock's Proposed Trumpet Performance. In the Fortnightly 
Review, April, 1894. 

t Who I Am, and What I Think. Part I. In the Candid Friend, May 
11th, 1901. 

60 



THE NOVELIST 

having " worked off " that romanticism which always appears 
to be latent in every creative imagination in the stage of 
incipiency. Remember what Stevenson wrote to William Archer 
of Cashel Byron's Profession: 

" As a whole, it is (of course) a fever dream of the most 
feverish. . . . It is all mad, mad and deliriously delight- 
ful; the author has a taste in chivalry like Walter Scott's 
or Dumas's, and then he daubs in little bits of Socialism ; 
he soars away on the wings of the romantic griffon — even 
the griffon, as he cleaves air, shouting with laughter at the 
nature of the quest — and I believe in his heart he thinks 
he is labouring in a quarry of solid granite realism. 

" It is this that makes me — the most hardened adviser 
now extant — stand back and hold my peace. If Mr. Shaw 
is below five-and-twenty, let him go his path; if he is 
thirty, he had best be told that he is a romantic, and pursue 
romance with his eyes open; perhaps he knows it; God 
knows ! — my brain is softened." * 

It is all very well for Shaw to say that he used Bizet's Carmen 
as a safety valve for his romantic impulses. But the testimony 
of his own novels flatly contradicts his complacent assertion 
that he was romantic enough to have come to the end of romance 
before he began to create in art for himself. 

These novels, in spite of their youthful romanticism, never- 
theless constitute the record of the adventures of an earnest 
and anarchic young man, with a knack of keen observation and 
terse protraiture, striving to give voice to and interpret the 
spirit of the century. When someone, in 1892, suggested that 
Shaw was, of course, a follower of Ibsen, Shaw replied with a 
great show of indignation : " What ! I a follower of Ibsen ! My 
good sir, as far as England is concerned, Ibsen is a follower 
of mine. In 1880, when I was only twenty-four, I wrote a book 
called * The Irrational Knot,' which reads nowadays like an 

* The Letters of B. L. Stevenson, Vol. II. Edited by Sidney Colvin, 
pp. 107 et seq. 

61 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Ibsenite novel." And in the postscript to the preface to the 
new edition of that novel, after having declared with familiar 
Shavian wiliness in the preface that he " couldn't stand " his 
own book, he makes a sudden bouleversement as follows : " Since 
writing the above I have looked through the proof-sheets of 
this book, and found, with some access of respect for my youth, 
that it is a fiction of the first order. . . . It is one of those 
fictions in which the morality is original and not ready-made. 
... I seriously suggest that ' The Irrational Knot ' may be 
regarded as an early attempt on the part of the life force to 
write 6 A Doll's House ' in English by the instrumentality of 
a very immature writer aged twenty-four. And though I say 
it that should not, the choice was not such a bad shot for a 
stupid instinctive force that has to work and become conscious 
of itself by means of human brains." 

With all its immaturity, The Irrational Knot is undoubtedly 
in the " tone of our time." It is the ill-chosen title, however, 
rather than the contents which recalls Nora and Torvald. The 
institution of marriage is not shown to be irrational; Shaw's 
shafts were aimed at the code of social morality which renders 
marriages such as the one described inevitable failures. Shaw 
not only seeks to expose the fatal inconsistencies of this social 
code, but also damns the feeble shams with which Society at- 
tempts to bolster up those inconsistencies. 

Endowed with much of the bluntness of Bluntschli, but with 
an added sensitiveness, the " hero " of this novel may be de- 
scribed as the crude and repellent prototype of the later Shavian 
males. Believing more in force than in savoir faire, in brutal 
sincerity than in conventional graces, Conolly stands out for 
literal truth and violent tactlessness as against social propriety 
and observance of les convenances. He is acting with perfect 
validity to himself when he says, in answer to the question as 
to what he is going to do about his wife's elopement with a 
former lover : " Eat my supper. I am as hungry as a bear." 
After Marian's desertion by her lover, Conolly urges her to 
return to him, assuring her that now she is just the wife he 
wants, since she is at last rid of " fashionable society, of her 
family, her position, her principles, and all the rest of her chains 

62 






THE NOVELIST 

for ever." Marian refuses, because she cannot " respect herself 
for breaking loose from what is called her duty." Their 
definitive words epitomize the failure of their life together. 

" ' You are too wise, Ned,' she said, suffering him to replace 
her gently in the chair. 

" c It is impossible to be too wise, dearest,' he said, and un- 
hesitatingly turned and left her." 

The subjects which inspired Shaw's maturer genius are the 
same subjects which so actively, if crudely and imperfectly, 
struggle for expression in this early work. Much acuteness is 
exhibited by the young man of twenty-four in spying out the 
weak points in the armour of " that corporate knave, Society." 
When the " high-bred " wife of the " self-made " man elopes 
with a " gentleman," Society's dismay is only feigned. Like 
Roebuck Ramsden, Marian's relatives are quite willing to for- 
give, and even to thank, the cur if he will only marry her: by 
ousting a rank outsider like Conolly, Douglas appears to So- 
ciety almost in the light of a champion of its cause. Shaw 
was too close an observer of life, even at twenty-four, to attempt 
to make out a case against matrimony by celebrating the success 
of an unblessed union. His point is turned against Society, 
less for upholding traditional morality than for making the 
preservation of its class distinctions its highest laws. Society 
is ready enough to forgive Douglas; but Marmaduke Lind, in 
setting up an unblessed union with Conolly's sister, Mademoiselle 
Lalage Virtue, of the Bijou Theatre, places himself beyond the 
pale. For she is socially " impossible " ; and, consequently, there 
can be no relenting towards Marmaduke until he return, and, 
in the odour of sanctity and respectability, marry Lady Con- 
stance Carberry ! 

The Irrational Knot cannot be called novel on account of 
its rather commonplace thought that " a girl who lives in Bel- 
gravia ought not to marry with a man who is familiar with the 
Mile End Road." But as Mr. W. L. Courtney suggestively 
remarks : " What is novel is the illustration, in clever and 
mordant fashion, of the absurd folly and wastefulness of social 
conditions which obstinately make intelligence subservient to 
aristocratic prestige. Even in our much-abused country there 

63 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

is, and has been for a long time, a career open for talent; but 
the aspiring male must not encumber himself by taking a partner 
out of ranks to which he does not belong. Thus, 4 The Irra- 
tional Knot ' is nothing more nor less than an early tract in 
defence of Socialism or Communism, or whatever other term 
should be applied to theories which seek to equalize the chances 
and opportunities of human beings." In The Irrational Knot 
are found the marks of that individual mode of observing and 
reflecting life, which is popularly denominated " Shavian." 
Here is the first clear testimony to that rationalistic mood in 
Shaw which permeates so much of his subsequent work. And 
yet this book contains intimations of that deeper philosophy of 
life which conceives of rationality merely as an instrumentality 
for carrying out its designs. This knot is irrational only 
because it is too rational. Marian shrinks from reconcilement 
with Conolly: she cannot breathe in the icy atmosphere of his 
rationalistic cocksureness. Conolly expresses Shaw's funda- 
mental protestantism in his assertion that Marian's ill-considered 
flight with Douglas was the first sensible action of her whole 
life. It was admirable in his eyes because it was her first 
vigorous assertion of will, of vital purpose. The human being 
can and will find freedom only in overriding convention, repudi- 
ating " duty," and solving every problem in terms of its own 
factors. The book, indeed, is marked less by immaturity of 
thought than by crudeness of execution. The characters are 
deficient in the flexibility and pliancy of human beings, and the 
book lacks suggestion of " the slow, irregular rhythm of life," 
of which Henry James somewhere speaks. To Shaw, the de- 
piction of Conolly was evidently a labour of love; and, conse- 
quently, we have an execution of force, if not always of 
convincing veracity. Elinor McQuinch, shrewd, sharp-tongued, 
acid — the familiar advocatus diaboli, and Shaw in petticoats of 
the later Shavian drama — is delightfully refreshing in her 
piquancy, and truly Ibsenic in her determination to " be her- 
self." The nascent dramatist often speaks out in this book — 
note the melodramatic Lalage Virtue — but nowhere more char- 
acteristically than in the trenchant deliverance of the justly- 
vexed Elinor : 

64 



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THE NOVELIST 

" Henceforth Uncle Reginald is welcome to my heartiest 
detestation. I have been waiting ever since I knew him 
for an excuse to hate him; and now he has given me one. 
He has taken part — like a true parent — against you with 
a self -intoxicated young fool whom he ought to have put 
out of the house. He has told me to mind my own business. 
I shall be even with him for that some day. I am as vindic- 
tive as an elephant : I hate people who are not vindictive ; 
they are never grateful either, only incapable of any endur- 
ing sentiment. . . . I am thoroughly well satisfied with 
myself altogether; at last I have come out of a scene 
without having forgotten the right thing to say ! " 

Imagination lingers fondly, as Mr. Hubert Bland once re- 
marked, over the spectacle of Elinor standing in the middle of 
the stage, three-quarters face to the audience, and firing off 
those acute generalizations about people who are not vindictive. 
Shaw's cleverness has begun thus early to betray him ; a number 
of the characters are smart, but quite unnatural. The " Lit- 
erary Great-grandfather " of the present Shaw unerringly 
pointed out many of the weak spots of Society ; but his funda- 
mental Socialism, impatient of class distinctions and social bar- 
riers, leads him occasionally into crude caricature. The book's 
greatest fault lies, perhaps, in the fact that his characters em- 
ploy, not the natural, ductile speech of to-day, but the stilted 
diction of Dumas and Scott. 

Commonplace as is the characterization, Shaw's next novel, 
Love Among the Artists, is a tract — less a novel than a critical 
essay with a purpose, in narrative form. Shaw confesses that 
he wrote this book for the purpose of illustrating " the differ- 
ence between that enthusiasm for the fine arts which people 
gather from reading about them, and the genuine artistic 
faculty which cannot help creating, interpreting, or, at least, 
unaffectedly enjoying music and pictures." 

I have often wondered if it might not be possible for one who 
did not know Shaw personally to construct a quite credible 
biography by making a composite of the peculiarly Shavian 
types presented in his novels and plays. Without carrying the 

67 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

analogy to extremes, I think it mediately true that Shaw has 
one by one exhibited, in semi-autobiographic form, the distin- 
guishing hall-marks of his individual and many-sided char- 
acter. To what extent Owen Jack is a projection of the Shaw 
of this period, how graphically, if unconsciously, Shaw has 
revealed in this droll original his own ideals of music and his 
defence of a certain impudently exasperating assertiveness of 
manner in himself, is difficult to decide. Shaw insists that Jack 
is partly founded on Beethoven. And yet there is an undoubted 
resemblance between the real Irishman and the imagined Welsh- 
man who plays the Hyde of Jack to the Jekyll of Shaw. Like 
" C. di B." and G. B. S., Jack is the first of the " privileged 
lunatics." He scorns the pedantry of the schools, sneers at 
mechanical music of academic origin, jibes at " analytic criti- 
cism," and fiercely denounces the antiquated views of the musical 
organizations of England, with their old fogeyism, their cow- 
ardice in the face of novelty, their dread of innovation, and 
their cringing subservience to obsolescent and outworn models. 
Like Shaw, Jack is always tolerant of sincerity, always sym- 
pathetic with true effort, unrestrainedly enthusiastic over any 
vital outpouring of the creative spirit; rebuking tyranny 
wherever he sees it, exposing falsehood whenever he hears it, 
eternally vigilant in exposing frauds and unmasking shams. 
And yet, with all his offensive brusqueness, fierce intolerance, and 
colossal self-sufficiency, gentle-hearted, compassionate, and, in 
the presence of beauty, deeply humble. 

Shaw once called Love Among the Artists a novel with a 
purpose. Viewed from another standpoint, it is a collection of 
types, a study in temperaments. The author preaches the arro- 
gance of genius as opposed to a false humility in the presence of 
great art works. The shallow artist, Adrian Herbert, " spends 
whole days in explaining to you what a man of genius is and 
feels, knowing neither the one nor the other " ; Mary Sutherland 
never surpasses mediocrity as an artist because her knowledge is 
based upon hearsay instead of upon experience. She stands in 
sharp contrast to Madge Brailsford, who tersely puts her case 
to Mary — the case, one might say, of the whole book — " If 
you don't like your own pictures, depend upon it no one else will. 

68 






THE NOVELIST 

I am going to be an actress because I think I can act. You 
are going to be a painter because you think you can't paint." 
Mr. Huneker declares that Mary Sutherland, " lymphatically 
selfish and utterly unsympathetic," is his prime favourite in the 
story. " Her taste in flaring colours, her feet, her habit of 
breathing heavily when aroused emotionally, her cowardices, her 
artistic failures, her eye-glasses, her treacly sentiment — what 
a study of the tribe artistic ! And truly British withal." The 
only other noteworthy figure in the book is the evasive, elusive 
Mademoiselle Szczymplica — a study searching in the closeness 
and delicacy of its observation. This charming and piquant 
Polish pianist, although emanating poetry and romance, has, as 
she puts it, the " soul commercial " within her. She cannot 
see why, even if she does love her husband, she should therefore 
dispense with her piano practice ! 

Unlike the classic model for a play, this novel has neither 
beginning, middle, nor ending; and yet it has many brilliantly 
executed scenes. Who could ever forget the street fight in Paris, 
the humorous " love-scene " between Madge Brailsford and 
Owen Jack, and the rehearsal, so acute in its satire — fitting 
companion-piece to the Wagner lecture in Cashel Byron's Pro- 
fession? 

It is noteworthy that Love Among the Artists heralds a 
favourite thesis of Shaw's — the natural antipathy between blood 
relations — a thesis expounded many years later by John Tanner 
in the rather leaden epigram " I suspect that the tables of 
consanguinity have a natural basis in a natural repugnance." 
Cashel Byron is always catching himself in the act of " shying " 
when his mother is around — she used to throw things at him 
when he was a boy ! Blanche Sartorius is quite ready to hate 
her father at a moment's notice; no love is lost between Julia 
and Colonel Craven; Vivie Warren stands out determinedly 
against her mother's authority; and Frank, with nauseating 
levity, takes great delight in "jollying" his reprobate father 
upon the indiscretions of his youth. Phil and Dolly are breezily 
disrespectful of parental rule; and Anne uses her maudlin 
mother as an excuse to do just whatever she wants. The thesis 
is part of Shaw's stock-in-trade, and might be regarded as 

69 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

a mere comic motif, were it not for the " damnable iteration " 
of the thing. Adrian Herbert avows his positive dislike for his 
mother, because, as he affirms, their natures are antagonistic, 
their views of life and duty incompatible — because they have 
nothing in common. We must take Shaw's insistence upon 
incompatibility of temperament between blood-relations with a 
good many grains of salt. It is not even half true that every 
mother tries to defeat every cherished project of her sons " by 
sarcasms, by threats, and, failing these, by cajolery"; that 
everyone's childhood has been " embittered by the dislike of his 
mother and the ill-temper of his father " ; that every man's 
wife soon ceases to care for him and that he soon tires of her; 
that every man's brother goes to law with him over the division 
of the family property ; and that every man's son acts in studied 
defiance of his plans and wishes. These things are only true 
enough to be funny; just enough of them happen in real life 
to give Shaw's thesis a sort of comic plausibility. It is the 
phrases, " love is eternal," and " blood is thicker than water," 
rather than the facts themselves, which make the iconoclastic 
Shaw see red. I find some explanation of his view in pardonable 
revolt, as a dramatist, against that persistent superstition of 
French melodrama — the voix du sang. Some explanation of 
Shaw's views in the matter may possibly be found in the facts 
of his own personal experience; at any rate, he once said that 
the word education brought to his mind four successive schools 
where his parents got him out of the way for half a day. Indeed, 
his campaign against the modern system of education springs 
from his recently expressed disgust with educators for conceal- 
ing the fact that " the real object of that system is to relieve 
parents from the insufferable company and anxious care of their 
children." Continuing in the same strain, he says: 

" Until it is frankly recognized that children are nui- 
sances to adults except at playful moments, and that the 
first social need that arises from the necessary existence of 
children in a community is that there should be some ade- 
quate defence of the comparative quiet and order of adult 
life against the comparative noise, racket, untidiness, in- 

70 



THE NOVELIST 

quisitiveness, restlessness, fitfulness, shiftlessness, dirt, de- 
struction and mischief, which are healthy and natural for 
children, and which are no reason for denying them the 
personal respect without which their characters cannot 
grow and set properly, we shall have the present pretence 
of inexhaustible parental tenderness, moulding of character, 
inculcation of principles, and so forth, to cloak the im- 
prisoning, drilling, punishing, tormenting, brigading, boy 
and girl farming, which saves those who can afford it from 
having to scream ten times every hour, ' Stop that noise, 
Tommy, or I'll clout your head for you.' " * 

With gradual, yet unhalting steps, Shaw works his way to 
those startling and topsy-turvy theories which are so delight- 
fully credible to the intellect uels and so bewilder ingly exasperat- 
ing to the Philistines. In Love Among the Artists, Madge 
Brailsford's open avowal to Owen Jack of her love for him 
gives a hint that the theory of woman as the huntress and man ^ 
as the quarry is upon us. But quite the contrary course is taken 
in Cashel Byron 's Profession, Shaw's next novel. Cashel Byron, 
the perfect pugilist, fights his way into the good graces of the 
" high-born " heiress, Lydia Carew, by the straight exhibition of 
his physical prowess. The whole book is conceived in such 
broadly satirical vein that it is impossible for me to accept it 
as anything except a boyishly irrepressible pasquinade. For- 
tunately, the " little bits of Socialism that were daubed in " here 
and there at first, were afterwards deleted ; the current version 
is a novel, pure and simple, with no discoverable Socialistic thesis 
behind it. Shaw's explanation that the book was written as an 
offset to the " abominable vein of retaliatory violence " that runs 
all through the literature of the nineteenth century need not 
detain us here ; Shaw has made out his own case with sufficiently 
paradoxical cleverness in the inevitable preface. He spends one- 
half of his time in explaining his actions during the other half ; 
and it has even been unkindly hinted that each new book of 

* Does Modem Education Ennoble? In Great Thoughts, October 7th, 
1905. 

71 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

his serves merely as an excuse for writing another preface. 
And it should be remembered that the preface to Cashel Byron's 
Profession was written some eighteen years later than was the 
book itself — ample time for Shaw to devise any excuse for 
representing his book as a deliberate challenge to British ideals. 
Suffice it to say that a comparison of Cashel Byron's Profession 
with Rodney Stone, for example, will make plain the distinction 
between the realism and the romance of pugilism. And while 
Byron's exhibitions of physical prowess are the most " howlingly 
funny " incidents in the book, it is nevertheless true that Shaw 
has done nothing to surround the " noble art of sluggerei " with 
any halo of fictitious romance.* " Its novelty," as Shaw him- 
self maintains, " consists in the fact that an attempt is made 
to treat the art of punching seriously, and to detach it from 
the general elevation of moral character with which the ordinary 
novelist persists in associating it." 

The real novelty, and, indeed, the chief charm, of the book 
consists rather in the fact that no attempt is made to treat 
anything seriously. So far as the prize-ring is concerned, the 
book's realism is veracious; the rest is the frankest of popular 
melodrama. What appeals more strongly to the popular heart 
than a low-born but invincible slugger fighting his way, round 
after round, to the side of a noble and fabulously wealthy 
heroine ! What more oracularly Adelphic in its melodrama than 
the " finger of fate " upon the " long arm of coincidence " 
directing Cashel's mother to the mansion of Miss Lydia Carew ! 
And what an exquisite fulfilment of poetic justice — the ultimate 
discovery that Cashel is a scion of one of the oldest county 
families in England, and heir to a great estate ! The thing that 
makes the book go, of course, is its peculiarly Shavian cast — 
the combination of what Stevenson called " struggling, overlaid 
original talent " and " blooming gaseous folly." Shaw's sense of 
dramatic situation continually foreshadows the future play- 

*A dramatization of the novel, by Mr. Stanislaus Stange, was pro- 
duced with moderate success in New York several years ago. Unique 
interest attached to the production because the part of Cashel Byron was 
taken by Mr. James J. Corbett, some time pugilistic champion of the 
world — and incidentally quite a clever actor. There is much of Cashel in 
Mr. Corbett, whose popular sobriquet is " Gentleman Jim." 

72 



THE NOVELIST 

wright. The abounding humour of the exquisitely ludicrous 
scene at the reception — the devastating comicality of the brute, 
with his native " mother-wit," turned rough-and-ready philoso- 
pher! When Cashel is set down in the midst of this ethical- 
artistic circle, he breezily excels all the professors — for he dis- 
cusses art positively, in the terminology of his own profession, 
in which he is a past master. The sublime hardihood of eluci- 
dating Beethoven and Wagner in terms of the pugilistic art of 
Jack Randall! And Bashville, over whom Stevenson howled 
with derision and delight, what a brief for democratic Socialism 
is Bashville — prototype for the Admirable Crichton and 'Enry 
Straker — keenly conscious of his own absurdity, yet zealously 
standing out in defence of his mistress and in insistence upon 
the truly democratic doctrine of " equal rights for all, special 
privileges for none." Who cannot sympathize with Stevenson : 
" I dote on Bashville — I could read of him for ever; de Bash- 
ville je suis le fervent — there is only one Bashville, and I am 
his devoted slave; Bashville est magnifique, mais il n'est guere 
possible" Or when he says : " Bashville — O Bashville ! j'en 
chortle (which is finely polyglot)." Service is as sacred to 
Bashville as pugilism is to Cashel. Each is the " ideal " pro- 
fessional man, who magnifies his office and measures up to the 
height of his own profession. Each demands recognition for 
fulfilling to the best of his ability his own special function in 
life. Shaw insists that the real worth of a man is not to be 
measured by the social standing of his profession, but in terms of 
his professional efficiency. 

Shaw's mastery of the portrayal of striking contrasts is 
exhibited in the case of Cashel Byron and Lydia Carew. There 
is a strong hint of the " female Yahoo " in Lydia's avowal to her 
aristocratic suitor : " I practically believe in the doctrine of 
heredity ; and as my body is frail and my brain morbidly active, I 
think my impulse towards a man strong in body and untroubled 
in mind is a trustworthy one. You can understand that; it is 
a plain proposition in eugenics." This was fun to Stevenson — 
but "horrid fun." His postscript is laconically eloquent: "(I 
say, Archer, my God! what women!)" William Morris seems 

73 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

to have had the rights in the matter in describing Lydia, to 
Shaw privately, as a " prig-ess." Shaw grandiloquently speaks 
of her as " superhuman all through," a " working model " of an 
" improved type " of womanhood. " Let me not deny, however 
. . . ," he remarks, " that a post-mortem examination by a 
capable critical anatomist — probably my biographer — will reveal 
the fact that her inside is full of wheels and springs." The book 
closes on a mildly Shavian note — the romance has dwindled to 
banality. " Cashel's admiration for his wife survived the 
ardour of his first love for her; and her habitual fore- 
thought saved her from disappointing his reliance on her 
judgment." 

All that was needed to expose the threadbare plot of Cashel 
Byron's Profession was The Admirable Bashville: or Constancy 
Unrewarded — Shaw's blank-verse stage version of the novel. 
This delightful jest was perpetrated in defence of the stage- 
right of the novel, which threatened to pass into unworthy hands 
through the malign workings of that " foolish anomaly," the 
English Copyright Law. In Shaw's celebrated lecture on 
Shakespeare, at Kensington Town Hall, section 10, as given in 
his abstract, reads as follows: 

" That to anyone with the requisite ear and command 
of words, blank verse, written under the amazingly loose 
conditions which Shakespeare claimed, with full liberty to 
use all sorts of words, colloquial, technical, rhetorical, and 
obscurely technical, to indulge in the most far-fetched 
ellipses, and to impress ignorant people with every possible 
extremity of fantasy and affectation, is the easiest of all 
known modes of literary expression, and that this is why 
whole oceans of dull bombast and drivel have been emptied 
on the heads of England since Shakespeare's time in this 
form by people who could not have written Box and Cox 
to save their lives. Also (this on being challenged) that 
I can write blank verse myself more swiftly than prose, 
and that, too, of full Elizabethan quality plus the Shake- 
spearian sense of the absurdity of it as expressed in the 
lines of Antient Pistol. What is more, that I have done it, 

74 






THE NOVELIST 

published it, and had it performed on the stage with huge 
applause." * 

Liking the " melodious sing-song, the clear, simple, one-line 
and two-line sayings, and the occasional rhymed tags, like the 
half-closes in an eighteenth-century symphony, in Peele, Kid, 
Greene, and the histories of Shakespeare," Shaw quite naturally 
" poetasted The Admirable Bashville in the rigmarole style." 
After illustrating how unspeakably bad Shakespearean blank 
verse is, Shaw ludicrously claims that his own is " just as good." 
Nor is it possible to deny that his own blank verse positively 
scintillates with the Shakespearean — or is it Shavian? — sense of 
its absurdity. The preface to The Admirable Bashville has the 
genuine Shavian timbre, with its solemn fooling, its portentous 
levity, its false premisses and ludicrous conclusions. In that 
preface, as Mr. Archer puts it, Shaw " defends the woodenness 
of his blank verse by arguing that wooden blank verse is the 
best. That, at any rate, is the gist of his contention, though 
he does not put it in just that way." 

The play — for despite Shaw's prefaces, the play's the thing — 
is a truly admirable burlesque of rhetorical drama. Not Bash- 
ville, but Cashel only is admirable ; it is Cashel's constancy that 
is rewarded. The piece is couched in a tone of the most delicious 
extravagance — a hit, a palpable hit, in every line. I cannot 
resist the temptation to quote from the scene in which Lydia, 
Lucian, and Bashville, fast locked against intrusion, debate the 
question of admitting Cashel, the presumably infuriated ruffian, 
who has just been successfully tripped up by Bashville as he is 
trying to enter the Carew mansion. 

Lydia : We must not fail in courage with a fighter. 

Unlock the door. 
Lucian : Like all women, Lydia, 

You have the courage of immunity. 

To strike you were against his code of honour ; 

But me, above the belt, he may perform on 

T' th' height of his profession. Also Bashville. 

* Bernard Shaw Abashed. In the Daily News, April 17th, 1905. 

75 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Bashville : Think not of me, sir. Let him do his worst. 
Oh, if the valour of my heart could weigh 
The fatal difference 'twixt his weight and mine, 
A second battle should he do this day : 
Nay, though outmatched I be, let but my mistress 
Give me the word : instant I'll take him on 
Here — now — at catchweight. Better bite the 

carpet 
A man, than fly, a coward. 

Lucian : Bravely said : 

I will assist you with the poker. 

And well worth remembering is the naive autobiography, de- 
livered at the request of the Zulu king, of that celestially denom- 
inated " bruiser " concerning whom Cashel once said : " Slave to 
the ring I rest until the face of Paradise be changed." 

Cetewayo *. Ye sons of the white queen : 

Tell me your names and deeds ere ye fall to. 

Paradise : Your royal highness, you beholds a bloke 
What gets his living honest by his fists. 
I may not have the polish of some toffs 
As I could mention on ; but up to now 
No man has took my number down. I scale 
Close on twelve stun ; my age is twenty-three ; 
And at Bill Richardson's " Blue Anchor " pub 
Am to be heard of any day by such 
As likes the job. I don't know, governor, 
As ennythink remains for me to say. 

Those who witnessed the original production of the play by 
the London Stage Society in 1903, and also the later production 
in 1909 at the "Afternoon Theatre" (His Majesty's), unhesi- 
tatingly gave it that " huge applause " of which Shaw speaks 
so frankly. " The best burlesque of rhetorical drama in the 
language," is Mr. Archer's sweeping dictum. Even the most 
hardened of Philistines might find it easy to agree with his state- 
ment : " Fielding's ' Tom Thumb ' and Carey's ' Chrononhoton- 
thologos ' are, it seems to me, not in the running." 

76 






THE NOVELIST 

Not until the appearance of An Unsocial Socialist, fifth of 
the novels of his nonage, is the Pandora's box of Shavian 
theories opened. There now begin to troop forth those startling 
and anarchic views with which the name of Shaw is popularly 
associated. This modern " Ecole des Maris " heralds the reign 
of the " literature of effrontery " ; Shaw is beginning to take 
his stride. With all its extravagance and waywardness, An Un- 
social Socialist has been declared by at least one critic of 
authority to be as brilliant as anything George Meredith ever 
wrote. Let us recall Stevenson's warning to Shaw : " Let him 
beware of his damned century ; his gifts of insane chivalry and 
animated narration are just those that might be slain and thrown 
out like an untimely birth by the Daemon of the Epoch." Gone 
are the chivalry and romance — the winds of Socialism have 
blown them all away. But the book fairly reeks of the " damned 
century," with its mad irresponsibility, its exasperating levity, 
its religious and social revolt. Written in 1883, it seethes and 
bubbles with the scum of the Socialist brew just then beginning 
to ferment. Shaw's original design, he tells us, was to " produce 
a novel which should be a gigantic grapple with the whole social 
problem. . . . When I had finished two chapters of this enter- 
prise — chapters of colossal length, but containing the merest 
preliminary matter — I broke down in sheer ignorance and in- 
capacity." Eventually the two prodigious chapters of Shaw's 
magnum opus were published as a complete novel, in two 
9 books," under the title An Unsocial Socialist. Shaw begins 
fiercely to sermonize humanity, to deride all customs and insti- 
tutions which have not their roots sunk in individualism and 
in social justice. The Seven Deadly Sins are: respectability, 
conventional virtue, filial affection, modesty, sentiment, devotion 
to woman, romance. Sidney Trefusis is the philosopher of the 
New Order, revolted by the rottenness of present civilization and 
resolved, by any means, to set in motion some schemes for its 
reformation. Discovering too late that marriage to him, as to 
Tanner, means " apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of his 
soul, violation of his manhood, sale of his birthright, shameful 
surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat," 
Trefusis deliberately deserts his wife, not because, as with Falk 

77 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

and Svanhild in Ibsen's Love's Comedy, love seems too exquisite, 
too ethereal to be put to the illusion-shattering test of marriage, 
but because marriage involves the triumph of senses over sense, 
of passion over reason. Even after he has ceased to love Henri- 
etta, her love for him continues to set in motion the mechanism 
of passion, and he is revolted by the fact that she is satisfied so 
long as " the wheels go round." 

The millionaire son of a captain of industry, Trefusis has, by 
a strange freak of fate, drunk deep of the Socialist draught of 
the epoch. Respecting his dead father for his energy and 
bravery among unscrupulous competitors in the struggle for 
existence, Trefusis curses his memory for the inhuman means 
employed in his business dealings and the social crimes concealed 
by the shimmer of his " ill-gotten gold." 

His most significant utterance — an outburst before the 
wealthy landowner, Sir Charles Brandon — gives us a clear pic- 
ture of Shaw's Socialist views at this time : 



" A man cannot be a Christian : I have tried it, and 
found it impossible both in law and in fact. I am a 
capitalist and a landholder. I have railway shares, mining 
shares, building shares, bank shares, and stock of most 
kinds; and a great trouble they are to me. But these 
shares do not represent wealth actually in existence: they 
are a mortgage on the labour of unborn generations of 
labourers, who must work to keep me and mine in idleness 
and luxury. If I sold them, would the mortgage be can- 
celled and the unborn generations released from its thrall? 
No. It would only pass into the hands of some other 
capitalist; and the working classes would be no better off 
for my self-sacrifice. Sir Charles cannot obey the com- 
mand of Christ : I defy him to do it. Let him give his land 
for a public park : only the richer classes will have leisure 
to enjoy it. Plant it at the very doors of the poor, so 
that they may at least breathe its air ; and it will raise the 
value of the neighbouring houses and drive the poor away. 
Let him endow a school for the poor, like Eton or Christ's 
Hospital; and the rich will take it for their own children 

78 



THE NOVELIST 

as they do in the two instances I have named. Sir Charles 
does not want to minister to poverty, but to abolish it. 
No matter how much you give to the poor, everything but 
a bare subsistence wage will be taken away from them again 
by force. All talk of practising Christianity, or even bare 
justice, is at present mere waste of words. How can you 
justly reward the labourer when you cannot ascertain the 
value of what he makes, owing to the prevalent custom of 
stealing it? . . . The principle on which we farm out our 
national industry to private marauders, who recompense 
themselves by blackmail, so corrupts and paralyses us that 
we cannot be honest even when we want to. And the reason 
we bear it so calmly is that very few of us really want to." 

A Marx in Shaw's clothing, Trefusis devotes all his energies, 
all his wealth, to the task of forming an international 
association — " The International," history gives it — of men 
pledged "to share the world's work justly; to share the 
produce of the work justly; to yield not a farthing — charity 
apart — to any full-grown and able-bodied idler or malingerer, 
and to treat as vermin in the commonwealth persons attempting 
to get more than their share of wealth or give less than their 
share of work." Whole-souledly committed to Socialism in its 
iconoclastic aspects, Trefusis defies convention, prudery, deli- 
cacy, good-taste, and tact in all his actions, convinced beyond 
reclaim that " vile or not, whatever is true is to the purpose." 
His philosophy holds it a short-sighted policy to run away 
from a mistake or a misunderstanding, instead of " facing the 
music " and clearing the matter up. A licensed eccentric like 
his prototypic creator in real life, Trefusis is permitted to take 
liberties granted to no one else ; and by the " exercise of a cer- 
tain considerate tact (which, on the outside, perhaps, seems 
the opposite of tact)," but which in reality consists in the 
most ingenious double-dealing, he somehow or other contrives 
to have his way and go scot-free. 

In the early part of the story, disguised as that " terrific 
combination of nerves, gall, and brains," Smilash, he dexterously 
philanders to his heart's content with several young girls at 

79 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the boarding-school where his wife was educated. The veri- 
similitude of the portraits, the acute psychology exhibited in 
the portrayal of the feelings, sentiments, and sentimentalities 
of young girls in the boarding-school stage of evolution, testify 
to Shaw's remarkable gifts as a genuine realist. That fore- 
runner of Julia Craven, the romantic little Henrietta Jansenius, 
is portrayed with insight, and not without delicacy and restraint. 
The most unreal, most unhuman scene in the book is that in 
which Trefusis apostrophizes the body of his dead wife. His 
reflections impress me as both flippant and callous in their 
solemn setting. It is with a sense of profound shock that we 
hear him rudely flout the " funereal sanctimoniousness " of the 
family physician, mock at the " harrowing mummeries " of 
religious and social observance, and " damn the feelings " of a 
father and mother who regarded their daughter as their chattel 
and showed no true feeling for her when she was alive. Trefusis 
is devoured with the conviction that the first, if the hardest, of 
all duties is one's duty to one's self. His fine Italian hand is 
betrayed in his later philanderings with the whilom loves of 
Smilash, now grown up into disagreeable, hard, calculating 
women. Trefusis's trickery of Sir Charles Brandon, his unfeel- 
ing deception of Gertrude Lindsay, his base flattery of Lady 
Brandon, his misleading promise to Erskine, are all exhibitions 
of his Jesuitical policy. The exponent of Socialism and the 
New Morality, Trefusis has no scruples in employing unfair 
means to secure whatsoever he wants — for the cause of labour 
and for himself.* 

Mr. W. L. Courtney has somewhere called attention to the 
curious triumph achieved by " our only modern dramatist," as 
he calls Bernard Shaw, in view of the fact that Shaw has never 
hesitated at interpreting women as beasts of prey. In the 
novels we find premonitions of Shaw's later attitude toward 

* " The hero is remarkable because, without losing his pre-eminence as 
hero, he not only violates every canon of propriety, like Tom Jones or Des 
Grieux, but every canon of sentiment as well. In an age when the average 
man's character is rotted at the core by the lust to be a true gentleman, 
the moral value of such an example as Trefusis is incalculable." — Mr. 
Bernard Shaw's Works of Fiction. Reviewed by Himself. In the Novel 
Review, February, 1892. 

80 




J» 



^S€>^ore^ ^sfJj?/?>n^rA4X/ 'SZAjz-w, 



/^JJW^r : 



THE NOVELIST 

women. Some suspicion of Shaw's theory that woman " takes 
the initiative in sex business " dawns upon us when Madge 
Brailsford openly courts Owen Jack; but Lydia Carew, that 
bloodless Ibsen type, is anything but the huntress. An Unsocial 
Socialist opens our eyes ; for Henrietta shamelessly pursues the 
mocking Trefusis and exhausts every feminine wile in the effort 
to induce him to return to the chains of wedlock. The idea is 
also uppermost in the final scene, in which Trefusis, by means 
of a little diabolically-concocted sentiment, persuades the pur- 
suing Gertrude to give him up, and, " for his sake," to marry 
Erskine. When Shaw came to erect his theory into a system 
in Man and Superman, he threw a flood of light upon all his 
former work. There is a keynote to the philosophy of every 
great or pioneer thinker : Shakespeare had his Hamlet, Wagner 
his Free-willing of Necessity, Schopenhauer his Will to Live, 
and Nietzsche his Will to Power. So Shaw is the apostle of the 
Life Force, as he calls it; and woman is incarnate life force — 
potent instrument of that irresistible, secret, blind impulse which 
Nature wields for her own transcendent purposes, heedless of 
the feelings, welfare, or happiness of individuals. Recognizing 
woman as the primal vital agency in the fulfilment of Nature's 
laws, he has not unnaturally come to regard her as " much 
more formidable than man, because she is, as it were, archetypal, 
belonging to the original structure of things, and has behind her 
activity, sometimes benevolent and more often malevolent, the 
great authority of Nature herself." * Under the spell of this 
plausible conviction, Shaw endows woman with all the attributes 
of a blind, unreasoning, unscrupulous force of nature. And 
for his faith he can find ample support in the literature of an 
age which produced Schopenhauer's Essay on Woman, The 
Master Builder, Little Eyolf, The Triumph of Death, Grafin 
Julie, Erdgeist, Thje Confounding of Camellia. With great 
adroitness, but with a curious inconsistency in one who has 
spent years of his life in " blaming the Bard," Shaw finds the 
chief support for his claim in the plays of Shakespeare himself. 
By blandishment, Rosalind accomplishes her purpose; Miranda 

*The words are those of Mr. W. L. Courtney. 

81 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ensnares Ferdinand with the words, " I would not wish any 
companion in the world but you. I am your wife if you will 
marry me." Juliet scales Romeo's defences one by one, and 
there is Desdemona with her fond " hint " ; Mariana, the 
strategist; Helena, pursuing the recreant Bertram; Olivia, 
powerless to hide her passion ; and poor, mad, melancholy 
Ophelia. 

One has only to pass in review Shaw's work, from An Un- 
social Socialist to Man and Superman, to discover that per- 
sistent exemplification of his theory that " woman is the pursuer 
and contriver, man the pursued and disposed of." Indeed, in 
his very first play, we find Shaw's concrete illustration of Don 
| aan's statement that " a woman seeking a husband is the most 
unscrupulous of all the beasts of prey." All the men in Shaw's 
plays seem to suffer, not from Prossy's, but from Charteris's 
complaint : " At no time have I taken the initiative and pursued 
women with my advances as women have persecuted me." All 
seem to labour under the conviction that the woman's need of 
a man " does not prevail against him until his resistance gathers 
her energy to a climax, at which she dares to throw away her 
customary exploitations of the conventional affectionate and 
dutiful poses, and claim him by natural right for a purpose that 
far transcends their mortal personal purposes." The quintes- 
sence of the Shavian woman is Ann Whitefield, that " most 
gorgeous of all my female creatures," as Shaw calls her — 
incarnation of fecundity in Nature, wilful, unscrupulous, im- 
modest, aggressive, dominant — compelling Tanner to obey her 
biological imperative. 

The appearance of Shaw's theory in An Unsocial Socialist 
is responsible for this divagation of mine from the theme of the 
novels, this anticipation of the feminine psychology of the plays. 
It is highly unreasonable to suppose that the exploitation of 
such a theory on Shaw's part is a perverse and impish trick, 
designed solely epater le bourgeois: Shaw has driven home his 
theory in countless deliberate statements. As a philosophic 
concept, as an interpretation of woman by an a-priorist, little 
fault can be found with Shaw in the matter. No one can question 
Shaw's right to his opinion. Even as an effort to make the 

82 



THE NOVELIST 

natural attraction of the sexes the mainspring of the action in 
modern English drama, Shaw's delineation of woman is far 
from being unworthy of consideration, though it has swung 
wide of the mark in exaggerative reaction against the romantic 
sentimentalities of the English stage. Shaw's women are full 
of purpose and vitality— the most " advanced " of women in 
assertion of their rights, in resolute determination to override 
all the barriers of current respectability and " prurient 
prudery," in perfect readiness to forego all considerations of 
good taste, tact, delicacy, modesty, conventional virtue. They 
ruthlessly repudiate all those qualities which have led man to 
dub her his " better half."£ Shaw's mistake consists in painting 
woman, not as she really, normally is, but as his preconceive 
philosophic system requires her to be? He planks down f 01 our 
inspection less a life-like portrait of the eternal feminine than 
a philosophic interpretation of the " superior sex." Shaw is 
a remarkable critic of life. Certain phases of human nature, 
unnoticed or unaccented by others, he has depicted with a 
veracity, a cleverness, a sparkling brilliancy beyond all praise. 
But it is one thing to portray an individual, a totally different 
thing to announce a universal type. A soldier like Bluntschli, 
a dare-devil like Dudgeon, a minister like Gardner, a hero like 
Caesar or Napoleon, a wooer like Valentine, a Socialist like 
Trefusis, a pugilist like Byron — all these may have lived. 
Shaw doubtless can — indeed, sometimes does — point to their 
counterparts, if not in literature, certainly in real life. But to 
say that all soldiers are like Bluntschli, for example, is little 
more foolish than to say that all women are like Blanche, like 
Julia, like Ann. The vital defect in Shaw's women is that they 
are too blatant, too obvious, too crude. They are lacking in 
mystery, in finer subtlety, in the subconscious and obscurer 
instincts of sex, in the arts of exquisite seduction, of keenly- 
felt yet only half-divined allurement.* The Life Force goes 
about its business, one would fain remind Mr. Shaw, not openly 
and with a blare of trumpets, but by a thousand devious and 
hidden paths. Of course, there is always the danger of taking 

* There are exceptions to this generalization, of course — Lady Cicely, 
Candida, Nora, Jennifer, Barbara. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Shaw too seriously. Mr. Archer wittily, but, above all, entirely 
truthfully, dubbed Ann a " mythological monster." As a 
pendant to Everyman of the Dutch morality, Ann may be the 
Everywoman of the Shavian morality. But even Shaw himself 
admits, with wily fairness, that while, philosophically, Ann may 
be Everywoman according to the Shavian dispensation, yet in 
practical, every-day existence there are countless women who 
are not Ann. 

If faith is to be placed in M. Emile Faguet's dictum that no 
exceptional work of art is ever written by anyone before reach- 
ing the age of thirty, then Shaw's novels are debarred by the 
Statute of Limitations. The " ineptitude " of his novels, of 
which Mr. Shaw once spoke to me, is attributable to the fact 
that during this early period he fed upon his imagination. 
He had not yet come into any deep or really vital communion 
with humanity. Produced in that impressionable period when 
dreaming seems preferable to living, the novels bristle with 
faults — immaturities of form, crudenesses of expression, blatant 
didactics. They are often loose and disjointed, generally lacking 
in closely articulated structure. With all his pretended effort at 
realism, Shaw has failed to impart to his novels that one quality 
without which no modern work of fictive art can take the very 
highest rank — inevitableness. To Shaw, as to Zola, art is life 
seen through a temperament. And I often receive the impression 
that Shaw's novels are less faithful records of contemporary 
existence than documents revelative of Bernard Shaw. Shaw is 
lacking in artistic self-restraint; like the true propagandist, he 
seems almost unwilling to accept facts as they are, so eager is 
he to impose upon them the stamp of his individual predilections. 
It is the strangest of paradoxes that one who claims for himself 
that rare and priceless gift — the abnormally normal eyesight 
of the realist— should have spent his life in the endeavour to fix. 
the mask of Shaw upon the face of life. 

" The gods know that Bernard Shaw has many sins of omission 
to answer for when he reaches the remotest peak of Par- 
nassus," writes Mr. Huneker ; " but for no one of his many 
gifts will he be so sternly taken to task as the wasted one of 
novelist. . . . There is more native talent for sturdy, clear- 

84 



THE NOVELIST 

visioned, character-creating fiction in the one prize-fighting 
novel of Bernard Shaw than in the entire cobweb work of the 
stylistic Stevenson ! . . . Shaw could rank higher as a novelist 
than as a dramatist — always selecting for judgment the supreme 
pages of his tales, pages wherein character, wit, humour, pathos, 
fantasy, and observation are mingled with an overwhelming 
effect." * While there is much of truth in what Mr. Huneker 
says, I should hold quite the opposite opinion concerning Shaw's 
relative merits as novelist and dramatist. Not the least sig- 
nificant feature of the novels, to my mind, is their foreshadowing 
of the future dramatist.f Turning over the pages of the 
novels, from first to last one cannot but observe this recurrent 
trait : Shaw always sees his characters in a " situation." It is 
difficult to read one of Shaw's novels without unconsciously 
looking for the stage directions. Proud as he is of his gifts 
as a " fictionist," no one is more conscious than is Shaw himself 
of his deficiencies in this role. With his customary succinctness, 
he once put the case to me as it really is : " My novels are very 
green things, very carefully written." 

* Bernard Shaw and Woman. In Harper's Bazaar, June, 1905. 

fit is worthy of remark that the conclusion of Love Among the Artists, 
as Julius Bab has pointed out, accurately prefigures the conclusion of 
Candida. The situation, the very words, are almost identical. 



85 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

"If ever there was a society which lived by its wits, and by its wits 
alone, that society was the Fabian." — The Fabian Society. Tract No. 41. 
By G. B. Shaw. 



CHAPTER IV 

FOR the student of Shaw's work and career, there is no escape 
from the resemblance, superficial or vital, between Shaw 
himself and the numerous comic figures he has projected upon 
the stage. Like that Byronic impostor, Saranoff, Shaw has 
gone through life afflicted with a multiplicity of personalities. 
In The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Oliver Wendell Holmes 
said that when two people meet, there are always six persons 
present. But Shaw needs no party of the second part to sum 
up the total of personalities: he is eternally dogged with his 
own ubiquitous aliases. Bernard Shaw, the " fictionist " ; Corno 
di Bassetto, the music critic of admirable fooling and pungent 
criticism ; G. B. S., the apostle of comic intransigeance in criti- 
cism of art, music, and drama — and life ; " P-Shaw," the Gil- 
bertian topsy-turvyist of essay and drama; George Bernard 
Shaw, Fabian, economist, public speaker, borough councillor, 
reformer — all these distinct characters is Shaw, in Maeter- 
linckian phrase, constantly meeting upon the highway of fate. 
It is the province of the biographer to detect, among this con- 
fusing cloud of aliases, the real man. 

In 1883, the career of Bernard Shaw the " fictionist " came 
to an abrupt and final conclusion. While this first and intro- 
ductory chapter in the book of Shaw's multiplex life was being 
written, the material for another and infinitely more important 
chapter was slowly being collected and arranged. With this 
second chapter begins the life of the real Shaw. 

As he himself has told us, his parents pulled him through the 
years in which he earned nothing. But he was perpetually 
" grinding away " at something, perpetually feeling his way 
towards confidence and efficiency. The diversity of his interests 
was remarkable : nothing he touched proved banal or unfruitful. 
This universality of interests — the determination to grasp, the 
effort to master, every subject that came to his hand — is little 

89 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

less than conclusive as an explanation of his many-sidedness. 
" I did not start life with a orogramme. I simply accepted 
every job offered to me, and I did it the best way I could." In 
this simple and straightforward statement is found the key to 
that diversity of talent, that range of ability, which is perhaps 
the most striking and noteworthy characteristic of this rare 
and eccentric genius. 

The decisive and revolutionary changes in Shaw's truly 
" chequered " career were due, in almost all cases, to the adven- 
titious or deliberate influence of some dominant personality in 
literature or in life. The crucial conjunctures in his career are 
closely associated with the names of Shelley, Ibsen, Nietzsche, 
Marx, Wagner, Mozart and Michael Angelo, in art, music, 
literature and philosophy; with the names and personalities, 
among others, in life of James Leigh Joynes, the Salt family, 
Henry George, Sidney Webb, William Morris and William 
Archer. 

In Shaw's acquaintance with the late James Lecky * is found 
the germ of that strenuous propagandist activity which may 
be called the most definitive expression of Shaw's life. It was 
in 1879 that Shaw first became intimate with Lecky and with 
those various subjects, connected with music and languages 
on the scientific side, to which Lecky devoted so much of his 
energy and attention. Once interested in some pursuit, Lecky 
would become so enthused that he would demand of his friends 
an interest therein commensurate with his own. This pestifer- 
ously altruistic spirit of Lecky's proved of great value to 
Shaw, who set his critical brain to work upon many of the 
problems which Lecky brought to his attention. Through 
Lecky, Shaw acquired a working knowledge of Temperament, 
concerning which he once boasted that he was probably the only 
living musical critic who knew what it meant ; and a due appre- 
ciation of Pitman's Shorthand — which he could write at the rate 
of twenty words per minute and could not read afterwards on 
any terms ! — as probably the worst system of shorthand ever 

* Author of the article on Temperament (systems of tuning keyed 
instruments) in the first edition of Grove's Dictionary of Music. 

90 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

invented, yet the best pushed on its business side. Together 
Lecky and Shaw studied and djjcussed Phonetics, and while 
Shaw's knowledge of the subject was by no means exhaustive, 
his interest in it has since served as a permanent protection 
against such superficial catch-penny stuff as the reformed spell- 
ings that are invented every six months by faddists. Shaw's 
individual mode of punctuation, his use of spaced letters in 
place of italics, his almost total rejection, on Biblical authority, 
which he accepted for once, of quotation marks, and those 
numerous original rules of punctuation and phonetics which he 
has from time to time formulated in magazine and daily press,* 
find their raison d'etre in Shaw's early association with Lecky 
and subsequent acquaintance, through Lecky's instrumentality, 
with the late Alexander Ellis and Henry Sweet, of Oxford. As 
readers of the notes to Captain Brassbound's Conversion may 
gather, Shaw accepts Sweet as his authority ; indeed, he highly 
values his acquaintance with that " revolutionary don," as he 
calls him, and once said that, in any other place or country in 
the world, Sweet would be better known than even Shaw himself. 
The knowledge of phonetics, the interest in language-reform 
acquired through his acquaintance with men like Lecky, Ellis 
and Sweet is the explanation, Mr. Shaw once told me, of the 
fact that the Cockney dialect, which so befuddles and astounds 
the readers of Captain Brassbound's Conversion, is far more 
scientific in its analysis of London coster lingo than anything 
that had previously occurred in fiction. 

In the winter of 1879, Lecky joined a debating club, called 
The Zetetical Society, numbering among its members Mr. Sidney 
Webb, Mr. Emil Garcke, and Mr. J. G. Godard. It was a sort 
of " junior copy " of the once well-known Dialectical Society, 
which had been founded to discuss Stuart Mill's essay on Lib- 

* Among Shaw's many articles on these topics, may be cited the follow- 
ing: A Plea for Speech Nationalization, in the Morning Leader, August 16th, 
1901; Phonetic Spelling: a Reply to Some Criticisms, ibid., August 22d, 
1901 ; Notes on the Clarendon Press Rules for Compositors and Readers, in 
The Author, April, 1902, pp. 171-2. See also Mr. William Archer's two 
articles: Spelling Reform v. Phonetic Spelling, in the Daily News, August 
10th, 1901; and Shaw's Phonetic World-English, in the Morning Leader, 
August 24th, 1901. 

91 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 






erty not long after its appearance in print. Both societies were 
strongly^ Millite ; in both there was complete freedom of discus- 
sion, political, religious and sexual. Women took a prominent 
part in the debates, which often dealt with subjects concerning 
their rights, interests and welfare. A noteworthy feature of 
these debates, particularly in relation to Shaw's future develop- 
ment as a public speaker, and a critic as well, was that each 
speaker, at the conclusion of his speech, might be cross-exam- 
ined on it by any one of the others in a series of questions. 
In this society Malthus, Ingersoll, Darwin and Herbert Spencer 
were held in especial reverence. The works of Huxley, Tyndall 
and George Eliot were on the shelves of all the members. The 
tone of the society was very " advanced " — individualistic, 
atheistic, evolutionary. Championship of the Married Woman's 
Property Act was scarcely silenced by the Act itself. The fact 
that Mrs. Besant's children were torn from her like Shelley's, 
aroused hot indignation, as did the prosecutions for " blas- 
phemy " then going on. It is not without significance that, even 
at this time, Shaw was Socialist enough to defend the action of 
the State in both cases. Indeed, he has always been, as he once 
told me, somewhat of Morris's opinion that " There may be some 
doubt as to who are the best people to have charge of children ; 
but there can be no doubt that the parents are the worst." 
Strange jest of fate, Shaw began his career by joining a society 
whose members regarded Socialism as an exploded fallacy ! ^ 
How little did anyone dream that, even then, underground 
rumblings of the approaching revolution might be faintly 
heard! That recurrent quindecennial cycle of Socialistic up- 
heaval of which Karl Kautsky has somewhere spoken, was well- 
nigh completed. Within five years Socialism was to burst forth 
with fresh impetus, sweep the younger generation along with it, 
and plunge the Dialectical and Zetetical Societies into the 
" blind cave of eternal night." 

One night in the winter of 1879, Lecky dragged Shaw to a 
meeting of the Zetetical Society, which then met weekly in the 
rooms of the Woman's Protective and Provident League in 
Great Queen Street, Long Acre. It will be related elsewhere 
why Shaw decided to join the society at once; suffice it to say 

92 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

here that he became a frequent attendant upon the meetings of 
the society, entering actively, if haltingly, into discussion and 
debate. The importance, in its bearing upon Shaw's subsequent 
career as a man of affairs and a man of letters, of an acquaint- 
ance he formed at this time through the accident of joining the 
Zetetical Society, can scarcely be overestimated. A few weeks 
after joining the society Shaw's keenest interest was aroused 
in a speaker who took part in one of the debates. This speaker 
was a young man of about twenty-one, rather below middle 
height, with small, pretty hands and feet, and a profile that 
suggested, on account of the nose and imperial, an improvement 
on Napoleon the Third. I well remember the animated way 
in which Mr. Shaw described to me the man and the occurrence. 
" He had a fine forehead, a long head, eyes that were built on 
top of two highly developed organs of speech (according to the 
phrenologists), and remarkably thick, strong, dark hair. He 
knew all about the subject of debate; knew more than the lec- 
turer; knew more than anybody present; had read everything 
that had ever been written on the subject; and remembered all 
the facts that bore on it. He used notes, read them, ticked 
them off one by one, threw them away, and finished with a 
coolness and clearness that, to me in my then trembling state, 
seemed miraculous. This young man was the ablest man in 
England — Sidney Webb." Then a trembling novice, yet subse- 
quently to be known as the cleverest man in England, Shaw 
to-day does not hesitate to pay full honour to the part Sidney 
Webb has played in his career. The extent and value of this 
association will reveal itself in due course. Shaw has said and 
done a thousand clever things ; but, as he once freely confessed 
to me, " Quite the cleverest thing I ever did in my life was to 
force my friendship on Webb, to extort his, and keep it." 

After Shaw had been a member of the Zetetical Society for 
about a year, he joined the Dialectical Society, and was faithful 
to it for years after it had dwindled into a little group of five 
or six friends of Dr. Drysdale, the apostle of Malthus. Shaw 
subsequently joined another debating society, the Bedford, pre- 
sided over by Stopford Brooke, who had not then given up his 
pastorate at Bedford Chapel to devote himself exclusively to 

93 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

literature. During these years, as we shall see more particularly 
in the next chapter, Shaw was slowly perfecting himself in the 
art of public speaking. The fascination of the platform grew 
upon him daily. He not only spoke frequently himself, but 
also attended public meetings of every sort, learning by precept, 
experience, and example the secrets of the art of platform 
speaking. With dogged persistence, he was surely, if slowly, 
acquiring what he himself has called the coolness, the self- 
confidence and the imperturbability of the statesman. 

During these years he had gradually widened and deepened 
his knowledge of the subjects which periodically came up for 
discussion in the various debating societies he had joined. In 
his boyhood he had read Mill on Liberty, on Representative 
Government, and on the Irish Land Question. And he was fully 
the equal of his co-debaters in knowledge and comprehension 
of the evolutionary ideas and theories of Darwin, Tyndall, 
Huxley, Spencer, George Eliot, and their school. But of po- 
litical economy he knew absolutely nothing. It was in 1882 that 
his attention was first definitely directed into the economic 
channel. 

England and Ireland were greatly stirred up at this time by 
the arrest of Henry George and James Leigh Joynes as " sus- 
picious strangers " in Ireland (August, 1882). Joynes, a 
master of Eton, wishing to see something of the popular side 
of the Irish movement, accompanied George as a correspondent 
of the London Times. George was making an investigation of 
the situation in Ireland preliminary to his campaign of propa- 
ganda in behalf of his Single Tax theories, enunciated in Prog- 
ress and Poverty. The arrest of George and Joynes, on the 
charge of being agents of the Fenians, was widely commented 
on in the newspapers of Great Britain and Ireland, and resulted 
in a Parliamentary questioning. Progress and Poverty, .pro- 
nounced by Alfred Russel Wallace " undoubtedly the most 
remarkable and important work of the nineteenth century," 
began to sell by the thousands ; it was prominently reviewed in 
the London Times and dozens of other papers ; and George felt 
at last that he was " beginning to move the world." Further 
encouragement came from the Land Nationalization Society, 

94* 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

which had been founded in London early in 1882, with Alfred 
Russel Wallace at its head.* "It contained in its member- 
ship," says Mr. Henry George, Jr., in his biography of his 
father, " those who, like Wallace, desired to take possession of 
the land by purchase and then have the State exact an annual 
quit-rent from whoever held it; those who had the Socialistic 
idea of having the State take possession of the land with or 
without compensation and then manage it ; and those who, with 
Henry George, repudiated all idea of either compensation or of 
management, and would recognize common rights to land simply 
by having the State appropriate its annual value by taxation. 
Such conflicting elements could not long continue together, and 
soon those holding the George idea withdrew and organized on 
their own distinctive lines, giving the name of the Land Reform 
Union to their organization." While interest was at fever heat, 
George was invited by the Land Nationalization Society to 
lecture under the auspices of a working men's audience in 
Memorial Hall. The bill, a true copy of which lies before me, 
reads as follows: 

LAND NATIONALIZATION. 

Memorial Hall, 

Farringdon Street, 

On Tuesday, September 5th, 1882. 

Under auspices of 

THE LAND NATIONALIZATION SOCIETY. 

Professor 

F. W. Newman 

will preside. 

George's speech that night was the torch that " kindled the 
fire in England " — a fire which he afterwards said no human 
power could put out. It was the masses that George was trying 
to educate and arouse. It was the masses whose ear he caught 
that night. 

* Compare Land Nationalization: Its Necessity and Its Aims, by Alfred 
Russel Wallace. Swan, Sonnenschein and Co., 1892. 

95 



/> 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

At that time, Bernard Shaw eagerly haunted public meetings 
of all kinds. By a strange chance, he wandered that night into 
the Memorial Hall in Farringdon Street. The speaker of the 
evening was Henry George: his speech wrought a miracle in 
Shaw's whole life. It "kindled the fire" in his soul. "It 
flashed on me then for the first time," Shaw once wrote, " that 
' the conflict between Religion and Science ' . . . the over- 
throw of the Bible, the higher education of women, Mill on 
Liberty, and all the rest of the storm that raged round Darwin, 
Tyndall, Huxley, Spencer, and the rest, on which I had brought 
myself up intellectually, was a mere middle-class business. Sup- 
pose it could have produced a nation of Matthew Arnolds and 
George Eliots ! — you may well shudder. The importance of 
the economic basis dawned on me." * Shaw now read Progress 
and Poverty; and many of the observations which the fifteen- 
year-old Shaw had unconsciously made now took on a sig- 
nificance little suspected in the early Dublin days of his indif- 
ference to land agency.f 

Shaw was so profoundly impressed by the logic of Henry 
George's conclusions and suggested remedial measures that, 
shortly after reading Progress and Poverty, he went to a meeting 
of the Social Democratic Federation, and there arose to protest 
against their drawing a red herring across the track opened 
by George. The only satisfaction he had was to be told that 
he was a novice : " Read Marx's Capital, young man," was the 
condescending retort of the Social Democrats. Shaw promptly 

* Compare Chapter VI. for Shaw's own account of his conversion by 
Henry George. 

■f No more significant contradiction between practice and conviction can 
be found in Shaw's career than lies inherent in the fact that he began 
life by collecting Irish rents ! " These hands have grasped the hard-earned 
shillings of the sweated husbandman, and handed them over, not to the 
landlord — he, poor devil! had nothing to do with it — but to the mort- 
gagee, with a suitable deduction for my principal who taught me these 
arts." Not without its spice of humour, also, is the fact that Shaw is 
to-day an absentee landlord, having derived from his mother an estate 
on which her family lived for generations by mortgaging. No wonder 
that Mr. Shaw contemplates with mingled feelings that process, which he 
has condemned from a thousand platforms, being carried on in his name 
between his agents and his mortgagees! 

96 






THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

went and did so, and then found, as he once said, that his 
advisers were awestruck, as they had not read it themselves! 
It was then accessible only in the French version at the British 
Museum. William Archer has testified to the diligence with 
which Shaw studied Marx's great work; he caught his first 
glimpse of Shaw in the British Museum Library, where he 
noticed a " young man of tawny complexion and attire " study- 
ing alternately — if not simultaneously — Das Kapital, and an 
orchestral score of Tristan and Isolde! 

While Darwin, Huxley, Spencer and their school left a distinct 
impress upon Shaw's mind, it is nevertheless true that he never 
became a Darwinian. To-day he is violently opposed to 
Darwinian materialism; and yet the Shavian philosophy, his- 
torically considered, is a natural consequence of that bitter 
fight against convention, custom, authority, and orthodoxy, 
inaugurated by Darwin and his followers. But Shaw's soci- 
ologic doctrine is a distillation, not of the Descent of Man or 
of the Data of Ethics, but of Das Kapital. At this crucial 
period in Shaw's career he was exactly in the mood for Marx's 
reduction of all the conflicts to the conflict of classes for 
economic mastery, of all social forms to the economic forms 
of production and exchange. The real secret of Marx's fas- 
cination for him, as he once said, was " his appeal to an unnamed, 
unrecognized passion — a new passion — the passion of hatred in 
the more generous souls among the respectable and educated 
sections for the accursed middle-class institutions that had 
starved, thwarted, misled, and corrupted them from their 
cradles." In Marx, Shaw found a kindred spirit ; for, like Marx, 
his whole life had bred in him a defiance of middle-class respecta- 
bility, of revolt against its benumbing and paralyzing influence. 
As Shaw once said: 

" Marx's ' Capital ' is not a treatise on Socialism ; it is a 
jeremiad against the bourgeoisie, supported by such a mass 
of evidence and such a relentless genius for denunciation 
as had never been brought to bear before. It was supposed 
to be written for the working classes; but the working 
man respects the bourgeoisie and wants to be a bourgeois; 

97 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Marx never got hold of him for a moment. It was the 
revolting sons of the bourgeoisie itself— Lassalle, Marx, 
Liebknecht, Morris, Hyndman, Bax, all, like myself, 
bourgeois crossed with squirearchy — that painted the flag 
red. Bakunin and Kropotkin, of the military and noble 
caste (like Napoleon), were our extreme left. The middle 
and upper classes are the revolutionary element in society ; 
the proletariat is the conservative element, as Disraeli well 
knew." * 

Some such Marxist passion, one surmises, subsequently carried 
weight with Shaw in influencing his choice of the Fabian Society 
as the fit milieu for the development and exploitation of his 
energy and talent. For at heart Shaw is what his plays so 
abundantly prove him — the revolted bourgeois. 

Not only did Marx's jeremiad against the bourgeoisie awaken 
instant response in Shaw : it changed the whole tenor of his life. 
No single book — not the Bible of orthodoxy and respectability, 
certainly — has influenced Shaw so much as the " bible of the 
working classes." It made him a Socialist. Although he has 
since repudiated some of the fundamental economic theories of 
Marx, at this time he found in Das Kapital the concrete expres- 
sion of all those social convictions, grievances and wrongs which 
seethed in the crater of his being. He became that most deter- 
mined, most resistless, and often most dangerous of men to deal 
with, a man with a mission. " From that hour," I once heard 
Mr. Shaw say, " I became a man with some business in the 
world." 

During the years 1883 and 1884 Shaw threw himself heart 
and soul into the exciting task of Socialist agitation and propa- 
gandism. His dogged practice in public speaking now began 
to demonstrate its value with telling effect. While he spent his 
days in criticizing books in the Pall Mall Gazette and pictures 
in the World, he devoted his evenings to consistent and strenuous 
Socialist propagandism. He accepted invitations to address all 

* Who I Am, and What I Think.— Part I. In the Candid Friend, May 
11th, 1901. 

98 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

sorts of bodies on every day in the week, Sunday not excepted. 
Remember his confession that he first caught the ear of the 
British public on a cart in Hyde Park, to the blaring of brass 
bands. During these years, also, he was coming into close touch 
with the younger generation destined soon to unite in a solid 
phalanx as the Fabian Society. Probably no living man has 
touched modern life at so many points as has Bernard Shaw. 
In his lifetime he has traversed a very lengthy arc on the circle 
of modern culture, modern thought and modern philosophy. 
Sovereign contempt for the laggard is one of his prominent 
characteristics ; he himself has ever been an " outpost thinker " 
on the firing-line of modern intellectual conflict. Essentially 
significant because essentially modern, Shaw owes no small share 
of his ability, his versatility, and his breadth of interests to his 
voraciously acquisitive, acutely inquisitive intellect. Clever ac- 
quaintances, brimming with ideas, and overflowing with com- 
bative zeal, furnished grist for the ceaselessly active mill of 
Shaw's intelligence. No biography which failed to trace the 
shaping influence exerted upon Shaw's frantically complex 
career by such men as Hubert Bland, Graham Wallas, Sidney 
Olivier, Sidney Webb and William Morris, could lay just claim 
to the title of genuine natural history. 

At the Land Reform Union Shaw first met Sidney Olivier, 
then upper division clerk in the Colonial Office. Sidney Webb 
and Sidney Olivier, very close friends, were the two resident 
clerks there. When Webb, at Shaw's persuasion, joined the 
Fabians'; Olivier went with him. There existed a very close 
relation, not only between the various members of the Fabian 
Society, but also between many of the advanced societies which 
came to life at this time. For example, Sidney Olivier, who was 
secretary of the Fabian Society for several years, and Edward 
Carpenter's brother, Captain Alfred Carpenter, of the Royal 
Navy, married sisters; in this way there was a sort of family 
connection between the Socialist and Humanitarian movements. 
Olivier had made friends at Oxford with Graham Wallas, who 
was probably influenced ^through this connection to become a 
Fabian. The very intimate relation existing between Shaw, 
Webb, Olivier and Wallas, and the consequent marked influence 

99 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

upon Shaw's literary career and performance, will be spoken of 
elsewhere at greater length. It is noteworthy that all of these 
men possessed literary talents of no mean order. Webb's books 
have a world-wide reputation. Olivier's play, Mrs. MaocwelVs 
Marriage, has been performed by the London Stage Society; 
and his literary talent has displayed itself, not only in plays, 
but also in verse, essay and story.* In addition to his ability 
as a facile public speaker, Graham Wallas also possessed lit- 
erary talent of no mean order, displayed to best advantage in 
his book on Francis Place, with its lucid exposition of the way 
in which politics are " wire-pulled " in England by real 
reformers.f 

Another man of talent, whose very opposition of belief and 
view-point exerted a sort of stimulating influence upon Shaw, 
was William Clarke, an Oxford M.A., who contributed the 
chapter on The Industrial Basis of Socialism to Fabian Essays. 
A Whitmanite, with strong feelings of rationalist type, allied in 
spirit to Martineau, the Unitarians, and their logical out- 
growth, the American Ethical Society, Clarke made upon Shaw 
an ineffaceable impression. Shaw first met this remarkable man 
at the Bedford Society — a meeting which bore fruit in Clarke's 
joining the Fabian Society. Clarke had lectured in America, 
known Whitman, and is remembered as the author of several 
books. Although a successful lecturer, he had by this time 
exhausted the interest of lecturing, being much older than the 
other Fabians. A very unlucky man, he was, in consequence, 
very poor. It has been often said that in the matter of philan- 
thropy Shaw never let his right hand know what his left was 
doing ; he found a way to relieve Clarke's poverty without even 
letting Clarke, who quarrelled with everything and everybody, 
suspect that he was the recipient of benefaction. When the 
Daily Chronicle changed its policy and decided to give a column 

* Entering the Colonial Office twenty-five years ago, he served as Colonial 
Secretary of the Island of Jamaica from 1899 to 1904, and on three occa- 
sions served as Acting Governor. From 1905 to 1907 he was principal 
clerk in the West African Department; in April, 1907, he was appointed 
Governor of Jamaica, to succeed Sir Alexander Swettenham, and he was 
made a K.C.M.G. on King Edward's birthday in 1907. 

fLife of Francis Place. Longmans, 1898. 

100 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

in its pages to Labour, its concerns and interests, the editor, in 
his search for young blood, hit upon Shaw, who quietly substi- 
tuted Clarke in his place. Had Clarke ever discovered the truth 
it might have mitigated the profound moral horror of Shaw he 
always entertained. How Shaw must have chuckled over the 
latent comedy ! The secret philanthropist regarded as a moral 
anarchist, a monstrum horrendum, by his highly moral bene- 
ficiary! To Clarke, an altruist and moralist to the backbone, 
the dawning of Ibsenism, of Nietzscheism, of Shavianism, seemed 
to be the coming of chaos. " Yet the fact that I knew his 
value and insisted on it, and that I could sympathize even with 
his horror of me," Mr. Shaw once told me, " kept our personal 
relations remorsefully cordial. The last time I called on him 
was in the influenza period. He was working madly, as usual. 
He would have certainly refused to see anyone; but he was 
alone in the flat, and opened the door for me. With a savage, 
set face that would have made even Ibsen's mouth look soft 
by contrast, he said, through his shut teeth : * I can give you 
five minutes and that is alV ' My dear Clarke,' I replied, 
ambling idly into his study, s I must leave in half an hour to 
keep an appointment; and I have just been thinking how I am 
to get away from you so soon; for I know you won't let me 
go.' And it turned out exactly as I said. We began to discuss 
the Parnell divorce case and the Irish crisis, and I could not 
get away from him until the hour was nearly doubled." * 

The part which the Fabian Society has played in English life, 
and the share of Bernard Shaw in the task of advancing the 
principles of Collectivism in the last twenty odd years, alone 
offer ample material for a book. So diverse in its ramifications 
is the subject, that it will be possible here to trace the evolu- 

* Peculiarly sad are the subsequent details of Clarke's life. After saving 
about a thousand pounds by frenziedly working away for several years as 
a journalist, he lost it all again in an unfortunate investment in the Lib- 
erator Building Society — the enterprise of the notorious Jabez Balfour. 
With an assured reputation as a journalist and author, Clarke might have 
repaired his fortunes. But the first great influenza epidemic almost killed 
him; and each year thereafter the epidemic laid upon him its increasingly 
tenacious grip. At last he sought to regain his health by foreign travel, 
only to die in Herzegovina. Clarke was the first leading Fabian to fall. 

101 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

tionary advance of Socialism in England only in so far as it 
directly bears upon Shaw's career.* As we know, Shaw began 
his real education as a pupil of Mill, Comte, Darwin and 
Spencer. Converted to Socialism by Henry George and his 
Progress and Poverty, Shaw took to insurrectior r y economies 
after reading Das Kapital. Marx's book won ] upport be- 
cause it so fiercely " convicted private propert p wholesale 
spoliation, murder and compulsory prostitutio >f plague,, 

pestilence and famine; battle, murder and sudden . th." For 
some time before joining any Socialist society, ^haw preached 
Socialism with the utmost zeal and enthusiasm. The choice of 
a society lay between the Social Democratic Federation, the 
Socialist League — both quite proletarian in their rank and file, 
both aiming at being large working-class organizations — and 
the Fabian Society, which was middle-class through and 
through. " When I myself, on the point of joining the Social 
Democratic Federation, changed my mind and joined the 
Fabian instead," Shaw once wrote, " I was guided by no dis- 
coverable difference in programme or principle, but solely by 
an instinctive feeling that the Fabian, and not the Feder- 
ation, would attract the men of my own bias and intellec- 
tual habits, who were then ripening for the work that lay be- 
fore us." 

The meetings held at Thomas Davidson's rooms at Chelsea in 
1881-1883 furnished the initial impulse to the ethical Socialism 
in England of the last thirty years. As an immediate outcome 
of these meetings the Fabian Society sprang into being. In 
September, 1882, Thomas Davidson, recently returned from 
Italy, where he had been engaged in writing an interpretation 
of the ethical philosophy of Rosmini, gathered about him 
a group of people " interested in religious thought, ethical 
propaganda, and social reform." Among their number were 
Messrs. Frank Podmore, Edward R. Pease, Havelock Ellis, 
Percival Chubb, Dr. Burns Gibson, H. H. Champion, the late 
William Clarke, Hubert Bland, the Rev. G. W. Allen and W. I. 



* In this connection, compare Socialism in England, by Sidney Webb. 
Swan, Sonnenschein and Co., 1890. 

102 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY, 

17, OSNABUBGH STREET, ReQENT*8 PaRK. 






% Itaifestfl. 



1 For always id thine eyes, O Liberty ! 

Shines that high light whereby the world is saved 

And, though thou slay us, wa will trust in thee.** 



LONDON : 
GEO. STANDRING, 8 & 9, FTNSBTJRY STREET, EC. 



1884 
Facsimile of Covee of Fabian Tract, No. 2. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Jupp, Miss Caroline Hadden, Miss Dale Owen and Mrs. Hinton. 
According to M.. Havelock Ellis, Davidson was convinced of 
" the absolute necessity of founding practical life on philo- 
sophical conceptions; of living a simple, strenuous, intellectual 
life, so far as possible communistically, and on a basis of natural 
religion. It was Rosminianism, one may say, carried a step 
further." The many meetings at Mr. Pease's rooms in Osna- 
burgh Street and elsewhere finally bore fruit in a series of 
resolutions proposed by Dr. Burns Gibson.* Certain members 
of the circle, led by Mr. Podmore, who desired to have a society 
on more general lines, purposed organizing a second society, 
not necessarily exclusive of the " Fellowship," on broader and 
more indeterminate lines, leaving it open to anyone to belong 
to both societies. At a meeting on January 4th, 1884, these 
proposals were substantially agreed to. The original name, 
" The Fellowship of the New Life," was retained by those who 
originally devised it, and a new organization constituted under 
the title of " The Fabian Society." f 

The Fabian Society, as Shaw has told us in characteristic 
style, was " warlike in its origin ; it came into existence through 
a schism in an earlier society for the peaceful regeneration of 
the race by the cultivation of perfection of individual char- 
acter. Certain members of that circle, modestly feeling that 
the revolution would have to wait an unreasonably long time if 
postponed until they personally had attained perfection, set 
up the banner of Socialism militant, seceded from the regen- 
erators, and established themselves independently as the Fabian 

*The society was entitled "The Fellowship of the New Life," and its 
first manifesto was entitled Vita Nuova. The following was its original 
basis, as drawn up by Mr. Maurice Adams, and adopted on November 
16th, 1883: 

"We, recognizing the evils and wTongs that must beset men so long 
as our social life is based upon selfishness, rivalry and ignorance, and 
desiring above all things to supplant it by a life based upon unselfish- 
ness, love and wisdom, unite, for the purpose of realizing the higher life 
among ourselves, and of inducing and enabling others to do the same. 
" And we now form ourselves into a Society, to be called the Guild 
of the New Life, to carry out this purpose." 
f Compare Memorials of Thomas Davidson, the Wandering Scholar, 
collected and edited by William Knight. T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1907. 

104 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

Society." Shaw was not one of the original Fabians; in fact, 
he knew nothing of the society until its first Uact, Why are the 
Many Poor? fell into his hands. For some reason the name of 
the society struck him as an inspiration. His choice fell upon 
that society in which he could gratify his desire to work with 
a few educated and clever men of the type of Sidney Webb. 

In the earliest stage of the society the Fabians were content 
with nothing less than the prompt " reconstruction of society 
in accordance with the highest moral possibilities." Shaw 
joined the society on September 5th, 1884, when it was about 
eight months old, and in the labour-notes versus pass-books 
stage of evolution. Shaw actually debated with a Fabian who 
had elaborated a pass-book system, the question whether money 
should be permitted under Socialism, or whether labour-notes 
would not be a more suitable currency! The next two tracts, 
numbered 2 and 3, were from Shaw's pen; and although they 
were, as he now rightly regards them, mere literary boutades, 
they serve as an important link in the history of the evolution 
of the society.* Tract No. 4, What Socialism Is, answering the 

* Tract No. 2, dated 1884, which is now very rare, has for motto the 
words of the late John Hay: 

"For always in thine eyes, O Liberty! 
Shines that high light whereby the world is saved; 
And, though thou slay us, we will trust in thee." 

Certain sections of this manifesto deserve quotation as illustrative of Shaw's 
original and characteristic mode of expression: 

" That, under existing circumstances, wealth cannot be enjoyed 
without dishonour, or forgone without misery. 

" That the most striking result of our present system of farming out 
the national land and capital to private individuals has been the divi- 
sion of society into hostile classes, with large appetites and no dinners 
at one extreme, and large dinners and no appetites at the other. 

" That the State should compete with private individuals — espe- 
cially with parents — in providing happy homes for children, so that 
every child may have a refuge from the tyranny or neglect of natural 
custodians. 

" That men no longer need special political privileges to protect them 
against women; and that the sexes should henceforth enjoy equal po- 
litical rights. 

"That the established Government has no more right to call itself 
the State than the smoke of London has to call itself the weather. 

105 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

question both from the Collectivist and Anarchist point of view, 
reveals the early Anarchistic leanings of the society; the tract 
really contained nothing that had not already been better stated 
in the famous Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels. 
Shaw was especially impressed by the fact that, in Das Kapital, 
Marx had made the most extensive use of the documents con- 
taining the true history of the leaps and bounds of England's 
prosperity, e.g., the Blue Books. This convinced him that a 
tract stuffed with facts and figures, with careful references to 
official sources, was what was wanted. Incapable of making such 
tracts unaided, Shaw at once bethought him of Sidney Webb. 
That " walking encyclopaedia," the student who knew everything 
and forgot nothing, could do it, Shaw was aware, as well as it 
could be done. So he brought all his powers of persuasion to 
bear on Sidney Webb. Picture to yourself the scene— two 
earnest, enthusiastic, revolutionary young men walking up and 
down Whitehall, outside the Colonial Office door, holding long 
and weighty discussions, often prolonged into the wee small 
hours, concerning the future of Socialism — the keen wit and 
agile logic of Shaw pitted against the sound judgment and 
sane conservatism of Webb. In this crucial juncture Shaw's 
proved the heavier artillery, and Webb became a Fabian. It 
would be difficult to lay one's finger upon any circumstance of 
deeper, more permanent, or more salutary effect upon Shaw's 
whole life. When Sidney Webb joined the Fabian Society there 
began a new and profoundly significant chapter in the history 
of Bernard Shaw. The debt Shaw owes to Webb is incalculable, 
and no one is readier to affirm it than Shaw himself. On various 
occasions I have heard Mr. Shaw unstintingly ascribe to Mr. 
Webb the greatest measure of credit for formulating and direct- 

" That we had rather face a civil war than such another century of 
suffering as the present one has been." 
Tract No. 3, addressed " To Provident Landlords and Capitalists," urged 
the proprietary classes to support " all undertakings having for their object 
the parcelling out of waste or inferior lands among the labouring class, and 
the attachment to the soil of a numerous body of peasant proprietors." 
Among the probable results of such a reform was mentioned (section 5) : 
"The peasant proprietor, having a stock in the country, will, unlike the 
landless labourer of to-day, have a common interest with the landlord in 
resisting revolutionary proposals." 

106 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

ing the policy of the Fabian Society for many years. " The 
truth of the matter," Mr. Shaw once said to me, " is that Webb 
and I are very useful to each other. We are in perfect contrast, 
each supplying the deficiency in the other." On the other hand, 
Mr. Webb assigns the chief credit to Mr. Shaw; and in a per- 
sonal letter, as well as in conversation, he has assured me that 
Mr. Shaw has been not simply a leading member, but the leading 
member of the Fabian Society practically from its foundation, 
and that it has always expressed his political views and work. 

1 think we may safely say that Mr. Shaw and Mr. Webb have 
been mutually complementary — and complimentary. 

The immediate result of the acquisition of Webb, the new 
recruit of the Fabians, was Tract No. 5, Facts for Socialists, a 
tangible proof of Webb's richly-stored mind and well-nourished 
scholarship. A comparison of this tract with those numbered 

2 and 3 is sufficient evidence of the vast practical improvement 
Webb effected in the publications of the society. From this 
time forth the tracts and manifestos of the Fabian Society took 
on character and importance through the fortunate conjunction 
of Webb's encyclopaedic mind and Shaw's literary sense. The 
next publication of importance was Tract No. 7, Capital and 
Land, a survey of the distribution of property among the classes 
in England. Drafted by Sidney Olivier, this tract was aimed 
in reality at the Georgites, who regarded capital as sacred. It 
exhibits growth of independent thought on the part of the 
society, and courage in breaking away from the fetters of 
" mere Henry Georgism." 

Eight years later, that official organ of the Gladstonians, the 
Speaker, defined Fabianism as a " mixture of dreary, gassy doc- 
trinairism and crack-brained farcicality, set off by a portentous 
omniscience and a flighty egotism not to be matched outside 
the walls of a lunatic asylum." Such denunciatory invective 
reveals the activity and influence the Fabian Society must have 
exerted, during those years, in the direction most dreaded by the 
older Whigs. But many were the lessons learned, the hard 
knocks received, the follies rejected, before Fabianism was 
sufficiently dangerous and important to be honoured with the 
scathing denunciation of the Speaker. The Fabian wisdom grew 

107 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

out of the Fabian experience; scientific economics out of in- 
surrectionary anarchism. Decidedly catastrophic in their views 
at first, the Fabians were not unlike the young Socialist Shaw 
somewhere describes, who plans the revolutionary programme 
as an affair of twenty-four lively hours, with Individualism in 
full swing on Monday morning, a tidal wave of the insurgent 
proletariat on Monday afternoon, and Socialism in complete 
working order on Tuesday. After Mrs. Wilson, subsequently 
one of the Freedom Group of Kropotkinist Anarchists, joined 
the Fabians, a sort of influenza of Anarchism spread through 
the society.* In regard to political insurrectionism, the 
Fabians exhibited no definite and explicit disagreement with the 
Social Democratic Federation, avowedly founded on recogni- 
tion of the existence of a class war. All, Fabians and Social 
Democrats alike, said freely that " as gunpowder destroyed the 
feudal system, so the capitalist system could not long survive 
the invention of dynamite " ! Not that they were dynamitards ; 
but, as Shaw explains : " We thought that the statement about 
gunpowder and feudalism was historically true, and that it 
would do the capitalists good to remind them of it." The saner 
spirits did not believe the revolution could be accomplished 
merely by singing the Marseillaise; but some of the youthful 
and insurgent enthusiasts " were so convinced that Socialism 
had only to be put clearly before the working classes to con- 
centrate the power of their immense numbers into one irresistible 
organization, that the revolution was fixed for 1889 — the anni- 
versary of the French Revolution — at latest." Shaw was cer- 
tainly not one of the conservative forces; he was outspokenly 
catastrophic and alarmingly ignorant of the multifarious deli- 
cate adjustments consequent upon a widespread social cata- 
clysm. " I remember being asked satirically and publicly at 
that time," Shaw afterwards wrote, " how long it would take 
to get Socialism into working order if I had my way. I replied, 
with a spirited modesty, that a fortnight would be ample for 
the purpose. When I add that I was frequently complimented 
on being one of the more reasonable Socialists, you will be able 

* Compare Fabian Tract No. 41. 

108 






THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

to appreciate the fervour of our conviction and the extravagant 
levity of our practical ideas." * 

Broadly stated, the Fabians, in 1885, proceeded upon the 
assumption that their projects were immediately possible and 
realizable, an assumption theoretically as well as practically 
unsound. At the Industrial Remunerative Conference they 
denounced the capitalists as thieves; while among themselves 
they were vehemently debating the questions of revolution, 
anarchism, labour-notes versus pass-books, and other like futile 
and daring projects. The tacit assumption under which they 
worked, the purpose of their campaign with its watchwords: 
" Educate, Agitate, Organize," was " to bring about a tre- 
mendous smash-up of existing society, to be succeeded by com- 
plete Socialism." This romantic, almost childlike faith in the 
early consummation of that far-off divine event, towards which 
the whole of Socialist creation moves, meant nothing more nor 
less, as Shaw freely admits, than that they had no true practical 
understanding either of existing society or Socialism. But the 
tone of the society was changing, gradually and almost imper- 
ceptibly, from that of insurrectionary futility to economic prac- 
ticality. Their tracts and manifestos voiced, less and less fre- 
quently, forcible-feeble expressions of altruistic concern and 
humanitarian indignation. The practical bases of Socialism, 
the Fabians began to realize, were in sore need of being laid. 
And there can be no doubt that the frank levity and irreverent 
outspokenness, which are the distinguishing traits of Shaw, the 
artist, were given the fullest field for development in the early 
days of Fabian controversy, when no rein was put on tongue or 
imagination. It was at this period, Shaw has told us, that the 
Fabians contracted the invaluable habit of freely laughing at 
themselves — a habit which has always distinguished them, always 
saved them from being dampened by the gushing enthusiasts who 
mistake their own emotions for public movements. As Shaw 
once expressed it : 

* The Transition to Social Democracy, an address delivered on September 
7th, 1888, to the Economic Section of the British Association at Bath. 
Printed in Fabian Essays, but first published in Our Corner, November, 
1888, edited by Annie Besant. 

109 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

" From the first such people fled after one glance at us, 
declaring that we were not serious. Our preferences for 
practical suggestions and criticisms, and our impatience of 
all general expressions of sympathy with working-class 
aspirations, not to mention our way of chaffing our oppo- 
nents in preference to denouncing them as enemies of the 
human race, repelled from us some warm-hearted and elo- 
quent Socialists, to whom it seemed callous and cynical to 
be even commonly self-possessed in the presence of the 
sufferings upon which Socialists make war. But there was 
far too much equality and personal intimacy among the 
Fabians to allow of any member presuming to get up and 
preach at the rest in the fashion which the working-class 
still tolerate submissively from their leaders. We knew 
that a certain sort of oratory was useful for ' stoking up ' 
public meetings; but we needed no stoking up, and when 
any orator tried the process on us, soon made him under- 
stand that he was wasting his time and ours. I, for one, 
should be very sorry to lower the intellectual standard of 
the Fabian by making the atmosphere of its public dis- 
cussions the least bit more congenial to stale declamation 
than it is at present. If our debates are to be kept whole- 
some, they cannot be too irreverent or too critical. And 
the irreverence, which has become traditional with us, comes 
down from those early days when we often talked such 
nonsense that we could not help laughing at ourselves." * 

No perceptible difference in the various Socialist societies in 
England was apparent until the election of 1885. When the 
Social Democratic Federation and that high priest of Marxism, 
the eloquent H. M. Hyndman, first appeared in the field, they 
" loomed hideously in the guilty eye of property." Whilst the 
Fabians numbered only forty, the Federation in numbers and 
influence was magnified out of all proportion by the imagination 
of the public and the political parties. The Tories actually 
believed that the Socialists could take enough votes from the 

* Tract No. 41, The Fabian Society: Its Early History, by G. Bernard 
Shaw. 

110 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

Liberals to make it worth their while to pay the expenses of 
two Socialist candidates in London.* The Social Democrats 
committed a huge tactical blunder in accepting Tory gold to 
pay the expenses of these elections, to say nothing of making 
the damaging exposure that, as far as voting power was con- 
cerned, the Socialists might be regarded as an absolutely 
negligible quantity. A more serious result of the " Tory money 
job " to the Federation was the defection of many of its adher- 
ents. The Socialist League, in the language of American Na- 
tional Conventions, viewed with indignation and repudiated 
with scorn the tactics of " that disreputable gang," the S. D. F., 
as it was currently designated; while the Fabians, more parlia- 
mentary in tone, passed the following resolution : " That the 
conduct of the Council of the Social Democratic Federation in 
accepting money from the Tory party in payment of the election 
expenses of Socialist candidates is calculated to disgrace the 
Socialist movement in England." Certain members of the Fed- 
eration, under the leadership of C. L. Fitzgerald and J. Mac- 
donald, seceded from it, and in February, 1886, formed a new 
body called " The Socialist Union," which eked out a precarious 
existence for barely two years. Far from being reinforced by 
the secessionists, the Fabians were, on the contrary, only the 
more inevitably forced to formulate their own principles, to 
mature their own individual policy. From this time forward, 
they were classed by the Federation as a hostile body. And, 
as Shaw says, " We ourselves knew that we should have to find 
a way for ourselves without looking to the other bodies for 
a trustworthy lead." 

During the years 1886 and 1887, which mark the high tide 
and recession of Insurrectionism in recent English Socialist his- 
tory, the sane tacticians, the Fabians, took little or no hand 
in the revolutionary projects for the relief of the unemployed. 
The budding economists were not wedded to street-corner agita- 

* The main facts of the history of the Fabian Society as here recorded 
are derived chiefly from Fabian Tract, No. 41, The Fabian Society: Its 
Early History, by Mr. Shaw, and from conversations with Mr. Shaw. 
Compare, also, The Fabian Society, by William Clarke; Preface to Fabian 
Essays. Ball Publishing Co., Boston, 1908. 

Ill 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

tions ; nor was their help wanted by the men who were organizing 
church parades and the like. These were years of great distress 
among the labouring classes, not only in England, but in Hol- 
land, in Belgium, and especially in the United States. " These 
were the days when Mr. Champion told a meeting in London 
Fields that if the whole propertied class had but one throat 
he would cut it without a second thought if by doing so he 
could redress the injustices of our social system; and when Mr. 
Hyndman was expelled from his club for declaring on the 
Thames Embankment that there would be some attention paid 
to cases of starvation if a rich man were immolated on every 
pauper's tomb." After the 8th of February, 1886, that mad 
Monday of window-breaking, shop-looting, and carriage- 
storming memory, Hyndman, Champion, Burns, and Williams 
were arrested and tried for inspiring the agitation, but were 
acquitted. " The agitation went on more violently than ever 
afterwards ; and the restless activity of Champion, seconded by 
Burns' formidable oratory, seized on every public opportunity, 
from the Lord Mayor's Show to services for the poor in West- 
minster Abbey or St. Paul's, to parade the unemployed and 
force their claims upon the attention of the public." Champion 
gave up in disgust when, impatient of doing nothing but march- 
ing hungry men about the streets and making speeches to them, 
he encountered only refusal of his two proposals to the Federa- 
tion: either to empower him to negotiate some scheme of relief 
with his aristocratic sympathizers, or else go to Trafalgar 
Square and stay there until something should happen. Matters 
reached a crisis when the police, alarmed by the occasional pro- 
posals of incendiary agitation to set London on fire simultane- 
ously at the Bank, St. Paul's, the House of Commons, the Stock 
Exchange, and the Tower, cleared the unemployed out of the 
Square. But the agitation for right of meeting grew universal 
among the working-classes; and finally Mr. Stead, with the 
whole working-class organization at his back, gave the word 
" To the Square I " * To the Square they all went, therefore, 

* For an interesting account of the early movements of Socialistic con- 
sciousness in England, compare An Artist's Reminiscences, by the artist, 
Walter Crane; Chapter "Art and Socialism," pp. 249-338. Methuen and 
Co., 1907. 

112 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

Shaw tells us, with drums beating and banners waving, in their 
tens of thousands, nominally to protest against the Irish policy 
of the Government, but really to maintain the right of meeting 
in the Square. With the new Chief Commissioner of Police, 
however, it was, as one of Bunyan's Pilgrims put it, but a word 
and a blow. " That eventful 13th of November, 1887, has since 
been known as ' Bloody Sunday.' The heroes of it were Burns 
and Cunninghame Graham, who charged, two strong, at the 
rampart of policemen round the Square and were overpowered 
and arrested. The heroine was Mrs. Besant, who may be said 
without the slightest exaggeration to have all but killed herself 
with overwork in looking after the prisoners, and organizing in 
their behalf a * Law and Liberty League ' with Mr. Stead. 
Meanwhile, the police received the blessing of Mr. Gladstone; 
and Insurrectionism, after a two years' innings, vanished from 
the field and has not since been heard of. For, in the middle 
of the revengeful growling over the defeat at the Square, trade 
revived ; the unemployed were absorbed ; the Star newspaper ap- 
peared to let in light and let off steam; in short, the way was 
clear at last for Fabianism. Do not forget, though, that In- 
surrectionism will reappear at the next depression in trade as 
surely as the sun will rise to-morrow morning." * 

Being " disgracefully backward " in open-air speaking, the 
Fabians had been somewhat overlooked in the excitements of 
the unemployed agitations. They had only Shaw, Wallas and 
Mrs. Besant as against Burns, Hyndman, Andrew Hall, Tom 
Mann, Champion and Burrows, of the Federation, and numerous 
representative open-air speakers of the Socialist League. The 
sole contribution of the Fabians to the agitation was a report, 
printed in 1886, recommending experiments in tobacco culture, 
and even hinting at compulsory military service as a means of 

* Shaw's mother was never able to persuade herself, so strong were her 
aristocratic instincts, that in becoming a Socialist, George had not allied 
himself with a band of ragamuffins. One day, while walking down Regent 
Street with her son, she inquired who was the handsome gentleman on the 
opposite side. On being told that it was Cunninghame Graham, the dis- 
tinguished Socialist, she protested : " No, no, George, that's impossible. 
Why, that man's a gentleman ! " 

113 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

absorbing some of the unskilled unemployed. Drawn up by 
Bland, Hughes, Podmore, Stapleton and Webb, this was the first 
Fabian publication that contained any solid information. In 
June, 1886, the temper of the society over the social question 
having cooled to some extent, the Fabians " signalized their 
repudiation of Sectarianism " by inviting the Radicals, the 
Secularists, and anyone else who would come, to a great confer- 
ence, modelled upon the Industrial Remunerative Conference, and 
dealing with the Nationalization of Land and Capital. Fifty- 
three societies sent delegates, and eighteen papers were read 
during the three afternoons and evenings the conference lasted. 
Among those who read papers were two Members of Parliament, 
William Morris and Dr. Aveling, of the Socialist League, Mr. 
Foote and Mr. Robertson, of the National Secular Society. 
Wordsworth Donisthorpe, Stuart Headlam, Dr. Pankhurst, Mrs. 
Besant, Edward Carpenter and Stuart-Glennie represented vari- 
ous other shades of Socialist doctrine and belief. The main 
result of the conference was to make the Fabians known to the 
Radical clubs and to prove that they were able to manage a 
conference in a business-like way. 

By this time the Fabians had definitely rejected Anarchism, 
and were agreed as to the advisability of setting to work by the 
ordinary political methods. The revolutionary hue of the so- 
ciety, however, was not obliterated without many wordy duels 
with that section of the Socialist League which called itself 
Anti-Communist, chiefly represented by Mr. Joseph Lane and 
William Morris.* It finally became necessary to put the matter 
to a vote in order to determine how many adherents Mrs. Wilson, 
the one avowed Anarchist among the Fabians, could muster. 
There ensued a spirited debate over the advisability of the So- 
cialists organizing themselves as a political party " for the 
purpose of transferring into the hands of the whole working 
community full control over the soil and the means of produc- 
tion, as well as over the production and distribution of wealth " 
— a debate in which Morris, Mrs. Wilson, Davis and Tochatti 
were pitted against Burns, Mrs. Besant, Bland, Shaw, Donald 

* Compare To-Day, edited by Hubert Bland, for the year 1886. 

114 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

and Rossiter. The resolution of Mrs. Besant and Bland, in 
favour of the organization of such a party, was finally carried, 
while Morris's " rider," discountenancing as a false step the 
attempt of the Socialists to take part in the Parliamentary con- 
test, was subsequently rejected. The Fabian Parliamentary 
League, an organization within the society itself, to which any 
Fabian might belong, was now formed in order to avoid a break 
with the Fabians who sympathized with Mrs. Wilson. The pre- 
liminary manifesto of this body, dated February, 1887, gives 
the first sketch of the Fabian policy of to-day.* The League, 
Shaw tells us, first faded into a Political Committee of the 
society, and then merged silently and painlessly into the general 
body. The few branches of the League which Mrs. Besant 
formed in the provinces had but a short life, quite to be ex- 
pected at this time, for, outside Socialistic circles in London, 
the society remained unknown. 

In connection with Shaw's own individual development, we 
shall soon see how the Fabians received their training for public 
life and became " equipped with all the culture of the age." 
Suffice it to state here that the Fabians had now thoroughly 
grounded themselves in the historic, economic and moral bearings 
of Socialism. Their rejection of Anarchism and Insurrection- 
ism was not accomplished without the expenditure of many 
words, was not unattended by ludicrous results. The minutes 
of the tumultuous meeting, signalized by the Besant-Bland- 
Morris resolutions and attendant heated debate, closed with the 
significant words : 

" Subsequently to the meeting, the secretary received 
notice from the manager of Anderton's Hotel that the 
Society could not be accommodated there for any further 
meetings." 

At any rate, even at the cost of being refused a meeting- 
place, the Fabians had finally demolished Anarchism in the 
abstract " by grinding it between human nature and the theory 

* This manifesto, in full, is to be found in Fabian Tract No. 41, pp. 13-14. 

115 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of economic rent." They now began to train the artillery of 
their culture and economic equipment upon practical politics. 
The Fabian Conference of 1886, attesting the repudiation of 
sectarianism by the Fabians, had been boycotted by the S. D. F. 
In 1888, the Fabians adopted a policy which severed the last 
link between the Fabian Society and the Federation. The 
Fabians began to join the Liberal and Radical, or even the Con- 
servative, Associations, to become members of the nearest Radical 
Club and Co-operative Store, and, whenever possible, to be 
delegated to the Metropolitan Radical Federation and the Lib- 
eral and Radical Union. By making speeches and moving 
resolutions at the meetings of these bodies, and using the Par- 
liamentary candidate for the constituency as a catspaw, the 
Fabians succeeded in " permeating " the party organizations. 
So adroitly did the Fabians manage their machinery of political 
wire-pulling that in 1888 they gained the solid advantage of 
a Progressive majority full of ideas " that would never have 
come into their heads had not the Fabians put them there," on 
the first London County Council. In Shaw's words, in 1892: 

" The generalship of this movement was undertaken 
chiefly by Sidney Webb, who played such bewildering con- 
juring tricks with the Liberal thimbles and the Fabian peas, 
that to this day both the Liberals and the Sectarian So- 
cialists stand aghast at him. It was exciting whilst it 
lasted, all this ' permeation of the Liberal party,' as it 
was called ; and no person with the smallest political intelli- 
gence is likely to deny that it made a foothold for us in 
the press and pushed forward Socialism in municipal 
politics to an extent which can only be appreciated by 
those who remember how things stood before our cam- 
paign. When we published * Fabian Essays ' at the end 
of 1889, having ventured with great misgiving on a sub- 
scription edition of a thousand, it went off like smoke; 
and our cheap edition brought up the circulation to about 
twenty thousand. In the meantime, we had been cramming 
the public with information in tracts, on the model of our 
earliest financial success in that department, namely, Facts 

lie 




m 

I 

n 



THE SOCIALIST. 

From a photograph taken in July. 1891 



[Facing p. lie; 



THE FABIAN SOCIETY 

for Socialists, the first edition of which actually brought 
us a profit — the only instance of the kind then known. In 
short, the years 1888, 1889, 1890 saw a Fabian 
boom. . . . " * 

In the Political Outlook, last of the Fabian Essays, Hubert 
Bland wisely predicted that the moment the party leaders had 
unmasked the Fabian designs, they would rally round all the 
institutions the Fabians were attacking. They might either 
put off the Fabians by raising false issues, such as Leaseholds 
Enfranchisement and Disestablishment of the Church, or, in 
order to defeat the Fabian candidates, coalesce with their rivals 
for office — just as, for example, the Republicans and Democrats 
united in the defeat of Henry George for mayor of New York 
City. In less than two years, Bland's prediction was verified. 
When Sidney Webb sought to force to political action a certain 
" Liberal and Radical " London Member of Parliament, who 
had unwarily expressed views virtually identical with Socialism, 
the startled politician discovered that he was not a Socialist and 
that Webb was. Although the word to " close up the ranks 
of Capitalism against the insidious invaders " was promptly 
given, it came too late, for the permeation had gone on too 
long. But the result was the " show-down " of the Fabian hand, 
and the call for a " new deal." In fact, the Conference of the 
London and Provincial Fabian Societies at Essex Hall on Febru- 
ary 6th, 1892, was called together, not to celebrate the con- 
tinuance of the permeation boom, but to face the fact that it 
was over. The time had come for a new departure. In his 
address before that conference, Shaw unhesitatingly said : " No 
doubt there still remains, in London, as everywhere else, a vast 
mass of political raw material, calling itself Liberal, Radical, 
Tory, Labour, and what not, or even not calling itself anything 
at all, which is ready to take the Fabian stamp if it is adroitly 
and politely pressed down on it. There are thousands of thor- 
oughly Socialized Radicals to-day who would have resisted So- 

* Tract No. 41: The Fabian Society: Its Early History, by G. Bernard 
Shaw. 

117 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

cialism fiercely if it had been forced on them with taunts, 
threats, and demands that they should recant all their old pro- 
fessions and commit what they regard as an act of political 
apostasy. And there are thousands more, not yet Socialized, 
who must be dealt with in the same manner. But whilst our 
propaganda is thus still chiefly a matter of permeation, that 
game is played out in our politics. . . . We now feel that we 
have brought up all the political laggards and pushed their 
parties as far as they can be pushed, and that we have therefore 
cleared the way to the beginning of the special political work 
of the Socialist — that of forming a Collectivist party of those 
who have more to gain than to lose by Collectivism, solidly 
arrayed against those who have more to lose than to gain by 
it." And his final words project no absurdly Utopian dream of 
striking the shackles from the white slaves of Capital. While 
expressing undiminished hope for the possibilities of a distant, 
yet realizable, future, they reveal the sanity of the practical 
man of affairs, of the realist Shaw has so often magnified and 
celebrated. " You know what we have gone through, and what 
you will probably have to go through. You know why we 
believe that the middle-classes will have their share in bringing 
about Socialism, and why we do not hold aloof from Radicalism, 
Trade-Unionism, or any of the movements which are tradition- 
ally individualistic. You know, too, that none of you can more 
ardently desire the formation of a genuine Collectivist political 
party, distinct from Conservative and Liberal alike, than we 
do. But I hope you also know that there is not the slightest 
use in merely expressing your aspirations unless you can give 
us some voting power to back them and that your business in 
the provinces is, in one phrase, to create that voting power. 
Whilst our backers at the polls are counted by tens, we must 
continue to crawl and drudge and lecture as best we can. When 
they are counted by hundreds we can permeate and trim and 
compromise. When they rise to tens of thousands we shall take 
the field as an independent party. Give us hundreds of thou- 
sands, as you can if you try hard enough, and we will ride the 
whirlwind and direct the storm." 



118 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 



" I leave the delicacies of retirement to those who are gentlemen first 
and literary workmen afterwards. The cart and trumpet for me." — On 
Diabolonian Ethics. In Three Plays for Puritans, p. xxii. 



CHAPTER V 

" T F the art of living were only the art of dialectic ! If this 
J. world were a world of pure intellect, Mr. Shaw would be 
a dramatist." Mr. Walkley damns the dramatist to deify the 
dialectician. Many would deny Shaw the possession of a heart ; 
few can deny him the possession of a remarkable brain and a 
phenomenal faculty of telling speech. The platform orator of 
to-day — easy, nonchalant, resourceful, instantaneous in repartee, 
unmatched in hardiesse, sublime in audacity — Shaw was once a 
trembling, shrinking novice. The veteran of a thousand verbal 
combats was once afraid to raise his voice; the blagueur, the 
" quacksalver " of a thousand mystifications, was once afraid 
to open his mouth ! After all, the " brilliant " and " extraor- 
dinary " Shaw is only a self-made man. The sheer force of his 
will, exerted with tremendous energy ever since he came to 
man's estate, is the great motor which has carried him in his 
lifetime " from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century." A 
scientific natural history of Bernard Shaw's extraordinary 
career should make clear to all young aspirants that the extraor- 
dinariness of that career lies in its ordinariness. " Like a green- 
grocer and unlike a minor poet," as Mr. Shaw once put it to 
me, " I have lived instead of dreaming and feeding myself with 
artistic confectionery. With a little more courage and a little 
more energy I could have done much more; and I lacked these 
because in my boyhood I lived on my imagination instead of on 
my work." 

Bernard Shaw has unravelled life's tangles with infinite pa- 
tience. No cutting of Gordian knots for him. To ignore his 
training, his dogged persistence, his undaunted " push, pluck 
and perseverance," is unduly to magnify his natural capacity. 
Sacrifice the phenomenon and you find the personality ; off with 
the marvel and on with the man. In a letter to me, written in 
1904, Mr. Shaw gave due, almost undue, credit to the influence 
of training: 

121] 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

" It has enabled me to produce an impression of being 
an extraordinarily clever, original and brilliant writer, de- 
ficient only in feeling, whereas the truth is that, though I 
am in a way a man of genius — otherwise I suppose I could 
not have sought out and enjoyed my experiences and been 
simply bored by holidays, luxury and money — yet I am 
not in the least naturally ' brilliant,' and not at all ready 
or clever. If literary men generally were put through the 
mill I went through and kept out of their stuffy little 
coteries, where works of art breed in and in until the 
intellectual and spiritual product becomes hopelessly degen- 
erate, I should have a thousand rivals more brilliant than 
myself. There is nothing more mischievous than the notion 
that my works are the mere play of a delightfully clever 
and whimsical hero of the salons: they are the result of 
perfectly straightforward drudgery, beginning in the in- 
eptest novel-writing juvenility, and persevered in every day 
for twenty-five years." 

The combination of supreme audacity with a sort of expansive 
and ludicrous self-consciousness has enabled Shaw to secure 
many of his most comic effects. And yet he once said with 
unreasonable modesty that anybody could get his skill for the 
same price, and that a good many people could probably get 
it cheaper. He wrested his self-consciousness to his own ends, 
transforming it from a serious defect into a virtue of genuine 
comic force. The apocryphal incident of Demosthenes and the 
pebbles finds its analogue in the case of Shaw. Only the most 
persistent and long-continued efforts enabled him to acquire that 
sublime hardihood in platform speaking which he deprecatingly 
denominates " ordinary self-possession." When Lecky, in 1879, 
first dragged him to a meeting of the Zetetical Society, Shaw 
knew absolutely nothing about public meetings or public order. 
I remember a talk with Mr. Shaw one day at Ayot St. Law- 
rence over the morning meal. " I had an air of impudence, 
of course," said Mr. Shaw, " but was really an arrant coward, 
nervous and self-conscious to a heartrending degree. Yet I 
could not hold my tongue. I started up and said something 

122 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

in the debate, and then felt that I had made such a fool of 
myself (mere vanity; for I had probably done nothing in the 
least noteworthy) that I vowed I would join the society, go every 
week, speak every week, and become a speaker or perish in the 
attempt. And I carried out this resolution. I suffered agonies 
that no one suspected. During the speech of the debater I 
resolved to follow, my heart used to beat as painfully as a 
recruit's going under fire for the first time. I could not use 
notes ; when I looked at the paper in my hand I could not collect 
myself enough to decipher a word. And of the four or five 
wretched points that were my pretext for this ghastly practice 
of mine, I invariably forgot three — the best three." Yet in 
some remarkable way Shaw managed to keep his nervousness 
a secret from everyone except himself, for at his third meeting 
he was asked to take the chair. He bore out the impression 
he had created of being rather uppish and self-possessed by 
accepting as off-handedly as if he were the Speaker of the House 
of Commons. He afterwards confessed to me that the secretary 
probably got the first inkling of his hidden terror by seeing that 
his hand shook so that he could hardly sign the minutes of the 
previous meeting. There must have been something provocative, 
however, even in Shaw's nervous bravado. His speeches, one 
imagines, must have been little less dreaded by the society than 
they were by Shaw himself, yet it is significant that they were 
seldom ignored. The speaker of the evening, in replying at the 
end, usually paid Shaw the questionable compliment of address- 
ing himself with some vigour to Shaw's remarks, and seldom in 
an appreciative vein. Conversant with the political theories of 
Mill and the evolutionary theories of Darwin and his school, 
Shaw was, on the other hand, " horribly ignorant " of the 
society's subjects. He knew nothing of political economy; 
moreover, he was a foreigner and a recluse. Everything struck 
his mind at an angle that produced reflections quite as puzzling 
as at present, but not so dazzling. His one success, it appears, 
was achieved when the society paid to Art, of which it was 
stupendously ignorant, the tribute of setting aside an evening 
for a paper on it by a lady in the " aesthetic " dress of the 
period. " I wiped the floor with that meeting," Shaw once told 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

me, " and several members confessed to me afterwards that it 
was this performance that first made them reconsider their first 
impression of me as a discordant idiot." 

Shaw persevered doggedly, taking the floor at every oppor- 
tunity. Like the humiliated, defiant Disraeli, in his virgin 
speech in the House of Commons, Shaw resolved that some day 
his mocking colleagues should hear, aye, and heed him. He 
haunted public meetings, so he says, " like an officer afflicted with 
cowardice, who takes every opportunity of going under fire to 
get over it and learn his business." After his conversion to 
Socialism, he grew increasingly zealous as a public speaker. He 
was so full of Socialism that he made the natural mistake of 
dragging it in by the ears at every opportunity. On one occa- 
sion he so annoyed an audience at South Place that, for the 
only time in his life, he was met with a demonstration of im- 
patience. " I took the hint so rapidly and apprehensively that 
no great harm was done," Mr. Shaw once said to me ; " but I 
still remember it as an unpleasant and mortifying discovery 
that there is a limit even to the patience of that poor, helpless, 
long-suffering animal, the public, with political speakers." Such 
an incident had never occurred before ; and although Shaw has 
spent his life in deriding the public, he has taken care that such 
a mortifying experience never occur again. Shaw now began 
to devote most of his time to Socialist propagandism. An 
eventful experience came to him in 1883, when he accepted an 
invitation to address a workmen's club at Woolwich. At first 
he thought of writing a lecture and even of committing it to 
memory; for it seemed hardly possible to speak for an hour, 
without text, when he had hitherto spoken only for ten minutes 
in a debate. He now realized that if he were to speak often 
on Socialism — as he fully meant to do — writing and learning 
by rote would be impossible for mere want of time. He made 
a few notes, being by this time cool enough to be able to use 
them. He found his feet without losing his head: the sense of 
social injustice loosened his tongue. The lecture, called 
" Thieves," was a demonstration of the thesis that the pro- 
prietor of an unearned income inflicted on the community ex- 
actly the same injury as a burglar. Fortified by sceva indig- 

124 






THE CART AND TRUMPET 

natio, Shaw spoke for an hour easily. From that time forth he 
considered the battle won. 

In March, 1886, Shaw participated in a series of public de- 
bates held at South Place Institute, South Place, Finsbury, 
E.C. Here for the first time he tried his hand, in a fairly large 
hall, on an audience counted by hundreds instead of scores. 
" Socialism and Individualism " was the general title of this 
series of Sunday afternoon lectures.* This was a daring under- 
taking for Shaw, who had neither the experience nor the savoir 
faire of his colleagues. It was perhaps for this reason that he 
did not particularly distinguish himself, his opponent giving 
him as good as he sent. Mrs. Besant, a born orator, was inter- 
esting and eloquent, while Webb quite eclipsed Shaw, positively 
annihilating his adversary. One who knew him well at this 
initial stage, however, said that if Bernard Shaw knew nothing, 
he invented as he went along. The lightness of touch, the nim- 
bleness of intellect, lacked complete development. At this time 
the clever young Irishman had neither memory enough for 
effective facts, nor presence of mind enough to be an easy 
winner in debate. 

No one has yet measured the all-important influence Sidney 
Webb has exerted upon Shaw's career, dating from that mem- 
orable evening at the Zetetical Society when Shaw gazed in 
open-mouthed wonder at that miracle of effectiveness and model 
of self-possession. Shaw's admiration has waxed, not waned, 
with the passage of time. To-day he regards Webb as one of 
the most extraordinary and capable men alive. The critic who, 

* On March 6th, Mrs. Annie Besant (Fabian Society) spoke versus Mr. 
Corrie Grant, subject: "That the existence of classes who live upon un- 
earned incomes is detrimental to the welfare of the community, and ought 
to be put an end to by legislation." On March 13th, Mr. G. B. Shaw 
(Fabian Society) versus Rev. F. W. Ford, subject: "That the welfare of 
the community necessitates the transfer of the land and existing capital 
of the country from private owners to the State." On March 20th, Mr. 
Sidney Webb (Fabian Society) versus Dr. T. B. Napier, subject: "That 
the main principles of Socialism are founded on, and in accordance with, 
modern economic science." On March 27th, Mr. H. H. Champion versus 
Mr. Wordsworth Donisthorpe (Liberty and Property Defence League), 
subject: " That State interference with, and control of, industry is in- 
evitable, and will be advantageous to the community." 

125 



SOUTH PLACE INSTITUTE, 

Sooth PtACE. Fiksbury, E.C: 

[NEAR MOOtlGATE STtlEEl AND BPOAI' STlll-.EV STATIONS) 

Sunday Afternoon Lectures, 

Sociali sm and Individu alism. 

A SERIES OF DEBATES 

Will take place during MARCH as follows 
March 6th. 
MRS. ANNIE BESANT versus MR CORRIE GRANT. 

(Fabian Society.) 

Subject : * That the existence of classes who live upon unearned incomes 
is detrimental to the welfare of the Community, and ought to be 
put au end to by Legislation." 

March 13th. 

MR. G. BERNARD SHAW vmw REV F W FORD. 

(Fabian Society.) 

Subject " That the welfare of the Community necessitates the transfer 
of the land and existing capital of the Country from private 
owners to the state. 



March 20th. 
MR. SIDNEY WEBB venu* DR. T. 8. NAPIER. 

[Fabian Society.) 
Subject : " That the main' principles of Socialism are founded on, and in 
accordance with Modern Economic Science." 



M&rch 27th. 
MR. H. H. CHAMPION 

verm* 
MR. WORDSWORTH DONISTHORPE, 

(Liberty end Property Defence League.) 
Subject : " That State interference with, and control of industry is 
inevitable, and will be advantageous to the Community." 

The Chair will be taken each afternoon at 4 o'clock. 

!.*>■ ■!■ HI 

The audience are requested to refraiu from any interference in the 

Debates, which will be confined exclusively to the speakers 

announced above. 

MR. WALTER HASTINGS 

Will give an 

OBGAH RECITAL 

Each Afterjjoon from 8-30 to 4 o'clock. 



ALU SEATS FREE. NO COLLECTION. 

Doors open at 3--20. 

CONRAD TH1ES, Hon. Sec. to Institute Committee. 
Program of Sunday Afternoon Lectures 
South Place Institute, South Place, Finsbury, E. C. 
March, 1886. 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

in Disraelian phrase, regards Shaw as " one vast appropriation 
clause," will find some support for this belief in Shaw's state- 
ment that the difference between Shaw with Webb's brains and 
knowledge at his disposal, and Shaw by himself, is enormous. 
" Nobody has as yet gauged it," Mr. Shaw once said in a letter 
to me, " because as I am an incorrigible mountebank, and Webb 
is one of the simplest of geniuses, I have always been in the 
centre of the stage whilst Webb has been prompting me, invisible, 
from the side." Shaw's faculties of acquisitiveness and appro- 
priation are enormously developed, a fact once comically accen- 
tuated by him in the frank avowal he once made to me : " I am 
an expert picker of other men's brains, and I have been ex- 
ceptionally fortunate in my friends." 

It was not without severe training and incessant work that 
Shaw and his fellow Fabians acquired the equipment in the his- 
toric and economic weapons of Social Democracy, comparable 
to that which Ferdinand Lassalle in his day so defiantly flaunted 
in the faces of his adversaries. While Stead, Hyndman and 
Burns were organizing the unemployed agitation in the streets, 
the Fabians were diligently training themselves for public life. 
Frank Podmore, a Post Office civil servant, and Edward Rey- 
nolds Pease, present secretary of the Fabian Society, two orig- 
inal Fabians, were great friends, and the earliest Fabian meet- 
ings were held alternately at Pease's rooms in Osnaburgh Street, 
and at Podmore's, in Dean's Yard, Westminster.* Certain of 

* At this time, it is interesting to recall, Pease and Podmore were deeply 
interested in the Psychical Research Society, which had its office in the 
Dean's Yard rooms. In this way the Fabians, Shaw in particular, were 
brought in close touch with the exploits of this society at its most exciting 
period, when Madame Blavatsky was exposed by the American, R. Hodgson. 
Compare, for example, Shaw's two book-reviews in the Pall Mall Gazette: 
A Scotland Yard for Spectres, being a notice of the Proceedings of the 
Society for Psychical Research (January 23d, 1886), and A Life of 
Madame Blavatsky (January 6th, 1887). On one eventful evening Shaw 
attended a Fabian meeting, then went on to hear the end of a Psychical 
Research stance, and ended by sleeping in a haunted house with a com- 
mittee of ghost-hunters. Picture, if you can, Shaw's deep mortification, 
his intense disgust over having a nightmare on that night of all nights, 
and waking up in a corner of the room struggling desperately with the 
ghost. 

127 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the Fabians sadly felt the need of solid information and train- 
ing, in addition to that afforded by the meetings of the society. 
Thrown upon their individual resources, those most scholarly 
inclined of the Fabians, a veritable handful, founded the Hamp- 
stead Historic Club. First established as a sort of mutual 
improvement society for those ambitious Fabians wishing to 
read, mark, learn and inwardly digest Marx and Proudhon, 
this club was afterwards turned into a systematic history class, 
in which each student took his turn at being professor. Thus 
they taught each other what they themselves wished to learn, 
acquiring the most thorough and minute knowledge of the sub- 
ject under discussion. In these days Shaw, Webb, Olivier and 
Wallas were the bravoes of advanced economics — the Three 
Musketeers and D'Artagnan. As Olivier and Wallas were men 
of very exceptional character and attainments, Shaw was en- 
abled, as he once expressed it in my presence, to work with 
a four-man-power equal to a four-hundred-ordinary-man- 
power, which made his feuilletons and other literary perform- 
ances " quite unlike anything that the ordinary hermit-crab 
could produce." Mr. Shaw thus explained very quaintly the 
secret of his success at this period. " In fact the brilliant, 
extraordinary Shaw was brilliant and extraordinary; but then 
I had an incomparable threshing machine for my ideas — a 
machine which contributed heaps of ideas to my little store; 
and when I seemed most original and fantastic, I was often 
simply an amanuensis with a rather exceptional literary knack, 
cultivated by dogged practice." And of his three warm friends 
he freely confessed : " They knocked a tremendous lot of non- 
sense, ignorance and vulgarity out of me, for we were on quite 
ruthless terms with one another." 

Another associate, one of the Fabian essayists and now a 
journalist, Hubert Bland, was — and is still — of great value to 
Shaw and his colleagues, by reason of his strong individuality 
and hard common sense, and on account of the fact that his 
views ran counter to Webb's on many lines. Bland lived at 
Blackheath, on the south side of the river, at this time; and 
his wife, the very clever woman and distinguished author, " E. 
Nesbit," was a remarkable figure at the Fabian meetings during 

128 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

the first seven or eight years of its existence. During the era 
of the Hampstead Historic Club, Bland had a circle of his 
own at Blackheath; and although Hampstead, lying north of 
London, was quite out of Bland's district, Shaw and his friends 
used sometimes to descend on his evening parties. Bland had 
an utter contempt for the Bohemianism of Shaw and his com- 
panions, evincing it by wearing invariably an irreproachable 
frock-coat, tall hat, and a single eyeglass which infuriated every- 
body. Mrs. Bland graciously humoured the reckless Bohemian- 
ism of the insouciant Fabians, and on one memorable occasion 
stopped them at her door, went for needle and thread, and — 
perhaps with a faint hope of preserving the haut ton of her 
social evening — then and there sewed up the sleeve of Sidney 
Olivier's brown velveteen jacket. A dernier ressort, for the 
sleeve was all but torn out! There was some compensation 
in the fact that, even then, Olivier fully looked the dignified 
part he was one day to fill. But it is not easy to doubt that 
the arrant Bohemianism of the luckless Fabians, their reckless 
disregard of evening dress, must have been very trying to the 
decorum of Blackheath. 

Of fierce Norman exterior and great physical strength, Bland 
dominated others by force of sheer size. Pugnacious, powerful, 
a skilled pugilist, and with a voice which Mr. Shaw once accu- 
rately described as being exactly " like the scream of an eagle," 
he made such a formidable antagonist that no one dared be 
uncivil to him. Just as William Clarke always combated and 
consequently stimulated Shaw by a diametrically opposite point 
of view, so Bland exerted a like influence upon Sidney Webb, 
and indirectly upon Shaw. Strongly Conservative and Im- 
perialist by temperament, Bland stood in sharp contrast to the 
Millite, Benthamite recruits of the Fabian Society. There 
were many other clever fellows, many other good friends 
in Shaw's circle at this time; but through circumstances 
of time, place and marriage — the changes and chances of 
this mortal life — they could not be in such close touch with 
Shaw, Webb, Olivier and Wallas as were these four with one 
another. 

It is not, of course, to be supposed that Shaw was merely the 

129 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

recipient, like Moliere always taking his material where he 
found it. In his own peculiar and, at times, vastly irritating 
way, he made his personality strongly felt, exerting great influ- 
ence by sheer force of a sort of perverse common sense. To 
employ Poe's apt descriptive, he was the Imp of the Perverse 
made flesh. In the circle of the Fabians there was room for 
considerable strife of temperaments, and in the other Socialist 
societies, quarrels and splits and schisms were rather frequent. 
Unquestionably Shaw's quintessential service to the Fabians lay 
in his pioneering ideas and his knack of drafting things in 
literary form and arranging his colleagues' ideas for them with 
Irish lucidity. A somewhat less conspicuous, yet little less im- 
portant, service consisted in clearing the atmosphere, in easing 
off the personal friction which not infrequently produced smoke 
and at times threatened to kindle a conflagration. This personal 
friction Shaw managed to eliminate in a most characteristic 
way: by a sort of tact which superficially looked like the most 
outrageous want of it. Whenever there was a grievance, instead 
of trying to patch matters up, Shaw would deliberately betray 
everybody's confidence after the fashion of Sidney Trefusis, by 
stating it before the whole set in the most monstrously exag- 
gerated terms. What would have been the result among ac- 
quaintances less closely linked by ties of personal friendship it 
is easy to imagine. The usual result, however, of Shaw's hazard- 
ous and tactless outspokenness was that everybody repudiated 
his monstrous exaggerations, and whatever of grievance there 
was in the matter was fully explained. Of course, Shaw was 
first denounced as a reckless mischief-maker, and afterwards for- 
given as a privileged lunatic. 

Once every fortnight, for a number of years, Shaw attended 
the meetings of the Hampstead Historic Club; and in the 
alternate weeks he spent a night at a private circle of econo- 
mists which subsequently developed into The Royal Economic 
Society. Fabian, and especially Shavian, Socialism is strictly 
economic in character, a circumstance due in no small measure 
to the fact that in this circle of economists the social question 
was left out and the work kept on abstract economic lines. In 
speaking of this period, Shaw afterwards confessed: 

130 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

" I made all my acquaintances think me madder than 
usual by the pertinacity with which I attended debating 
societies and haunted all sorts of hole-and-corner debates 
and public meetings and made speeches at them. I was 
President of the Local Government Board at an amateur 
Parliament where a Fabian ministry had to put its pro- 
posals into black-and-white in the shape of Parliamentary 
Bills. Every Sunday I lectured on some subject I wanted 
to teach to myself; and it was not until I had come to the 
point of being able to deliver separate lectures, without 
notes, on Rent, Interest, Profits, Wages, Toryism, Liberal- 
ism, Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, Trade-Unionism, 
Co-operation, Democracy, the Division of Society into 
Classes, and the Suitability of Human Nature to Systems 
of Trust Distribution, that I was able to handle Social 
Democracy as it must be handled before it can be preached 
in such a way as to present it to every sort of man from 
his own particular point of view. In old lecture lists of 
the Society you will find my name down for twelve different 
lectures or so. Nowadays (1892), I have only one, for 
which the secretary is good enough to invent four or five 
different names." * 

The only opponents who held their own against the Fabians 
in debate, men like Levy and Foote, had learned in the harsh 
school of experience ; like the Fabians, they had found pleasure 
and profit in speaking, in debating, and in picking up bits of 
social information in the most out-of-the-way places. It was 
this keen Socialistic acquisitiveness of the Fabians, their readi- 
ness to eschew the conventional amusements for the pleasure 
to be derived from speaking several nights each week, which 
prepared them for the strenuous platform campaigns of the 
future. And such fun it was to the Fabian swashbucklers ! 
After being " driven in disgrace " out of Anderton's Hotel, and 
subsequently out of a chapel near Wardour Street in which 
they had sought sanctuary, the Fabians went to Willis's Rooms, 

* Tract No. 41, The Fabian Society: Its Early History, by G. Bernard 
Shaw. 

131 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the most aristocratic and also, as it turned out, the cheapest 
place of meeting in London. " Our favourite sport," says Shaw, 
" was inviting politicians and economists to lecture to us, and 
then falling on them with all our erudition and debating skill, 
and making them wish they had never been born." On one 
occasion the Fabians confuted Co-operation in the person of 
Mr. Benjamin Jones on a point on which, as Shaw afterwards 
confessed, they subsequently found reason to believe that they 
were entirely in the wrong and he entirely in the right. The 
16th of March, 1888, commemorates the most signal victory 
of the Fabians in this species of guerrilla warfare. On that 
night of glorious memory a well-known member of Parliament, 
now the Secretary of State for War, lured into the Fabian 
ambuscade, was butchered to make a Fabian holiday. The 
following ludicrous account of the incident was written by the 
Individualist, Mr. G. Standring, in The Radical, March 17th, 
1888. Picture to yourself the scene — a spacious and lofty 
apartment, brilliantly lighted by scores of wax candles in hand- 
some candelabra, and about eighty ladies and gentlemen, seated 
around on comfortable chairs, lying in wait ^or the unsuspecting 
M.P. The company is composed almost exclusively of members 
of the Fabian Society — " A Socialist body whose motto is : 
Don't be in a hurry ; but when you do go it, go it thick ! " 

" Such were the surroundings when, on March 16th, Mr. 
R. B. Haldane, M.P., was brought forth to meet his fate. 
The hon. gentleman, who is a lawyer and Member for 
Haddingtonshire, was announced to speak on ' Radical 
Remedies for Economic Evils,' but one could easily see 
that this was a mere ruse of war. The Fabian fighters 
were drawn up in battle array before the Chairman's table, 
ready for the fatal onslaught. 

" Truth to tell, Mr. Haldane did not appear at all 
alarmed at the prospect of his impending butchery. Erect 
and manly, he stood at the table, and in calm, well-chosen 
language showed cause for his belief that Radical princi- 
ples and Radical methods are sufficient to cure the evils 
of society. He then critically examined a Fabian pam- 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

phlet, ' The True Radical Programme,' and put in de- 
murrers thereto. The hon. and learned gentleman spoke 
for an hour, and as I sat on my cushioned chair, encom- 
passed round about by Socialists, breathing an atmosphere 
impregnated with Socialism, I listened, and softly mur- 
mured : ' Verily, an angel hath come down from heaven ! ' 

" As the last words of Mr. Haldane died away, the short, 
sharp tones of the Chairman's voice told that the carnage 
was about to commence. After some desultory questioning, 
Mr. Sidney Webb sprang to his feet, eager, excited and 
anxious to shake the life out of Mr. Haldane before anyone 
else could get at him. He spoke so rapidly as to become 
at times almost incoherent. Mr. Webb seemed to be 
charged with matter enough for a fortnight, and he was 
naturally desirous to fire as much of it as possible into 
the body of the enemy. At length the warning bell of 
the Chairman was heard, and the attack was continued by 
Mrs. Annie Besant, who, standing with her back to the 
foe, occasionally faced round to emphasize a point. Then 
up rose George Bernard Shaw, and as he spoke, his gestures 
suggested to me the idea that he had got Mr. Haldane 
impaled upon a needle, and was picking him to pieces 
limb by limb, as wicked boys disintegrate flies. Mr. Shaw 
went over the Radical lines as laid down by his opponent, 
and this was the burden of his song: That is no good, 
this is no good, the other is no good — while you leave nine 
hundred thousand millions, in the shape of Rent and In- 
terest, in the hands of an idle class. Let us nationalize 
the nine hundred thousand millions, and all these (Radical) 
things shall be added unto you. Mr. Shaw fired a Parthian 
shot as he sat down. Mr. Haldane had spoken of educa- 
tion, elementary and technical, as a means of advancing 
national welfare. Shaw met this with open scorn, and 
declared that the most useful and necessary kind of educa- 
tion was the education of the Liberal party ! With that he 
subsided in a rose-water bath of Fabian laughter. 

" The massacre was completed by two other members of 
the Society, and then the Chairman called upon Mr. Hal- 

133 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

dane to reply. Hideous mockery ! the Chairman knew that 
Haldane was dead! He had seen him torn, tossed and 
trampled underfoot. Perhaps he expected the ghost of the 
M.P. to rise and conclude the debate with frightful gibber- 
ings of fleshless jaws and gestures of bony hands. Indeed, 
I heard a rustling of papers, as if one gathered his notes 
for a speech ; but I felt unable to face the grisly horror of 
a phantom replying to its assassins, so I fled." 

The three great influences, formative and determinative, 
whose importance in their bearing upon Shaw's career can 
scarcely be overestimated, are: first, minute and exhaustive re- 
searches into the economic bases of society ; second, his persever- 
ing efforts as a public man toward the practical reformation of 
patent social evils ; and, third, his strenuous activity persisted 
/ in for many years, as a public speaker and Socialist propa- 
N gandist. His plays are so permeated with the spirit of eco- 
nomic and social research that they may be called, with little 
exaggeration, clinical lectures upon the social anatomy of our 
time. Shaw, the public man, the man of affairs, never the literary 
recluse of the ivory tower, stands revealed alike in criticism 
and drama. There is more truth than jest in Shaw's statement, 
generally greeted with derisive scepticism, that his plays differ 
from those of other dramatists because he has been a vestryman 
and borough councillor. And there is scarcely a play of 
Shaw's which does not bear the hall-mark of the facile debater. 
His weekly feuilletons, his literary criticisms, provocative, argu- 
mentative, controversial, smack of the arena and the public 
platform. 

This close touch with actual life, this vital association with 
public effort and social reform, have imparted to Shaw's literary 
productions a rare, an unique flavour. He has gone down 
unflinchingly into the pitiless and dusty arena to joust against 
all comers. Shaw has never lived the literary life, never be- 
longed to a literary club. He has never lived " Vauguste vie 
quotidienne d^un Hamlet^ who, as Maeterlinck asserts, has time 
to live because he does not act. Shaw has found life in action, 
action in life. Although he brought all his powers unsparingly 

134 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

to the criticism of the fine arts, he never frequented their social 
surroundings. When he was not actually writing or attending 
performances, his time was fully taken up by public work, in 
which he was fortunate enough to be associated with a few men 
of exceptional ability and character. From 1883 to 1888, he 
was criticizing books in the Pall Mall Gazette and pictures in 
the World. This left him his evenings free ; consequently he did 
a tremendous amount of public speaking and debating — speak- 
ing in the open air, in the streets, in the parks, at demonstra- 
tions — anywhere and everywhere. While he never belonged to 
a literary club, so called, he was a member of several literary 
societies in London. His intimate acquaintance with Shake- 
speare was improved by his quiet literary off-nights at the New 
Shakespeare Society under F. J. Furnival. Elected a member 
of the Browning Society by mistake, Shaw stood by the mistake 
willingly enough, and spent many breezy and delightful evenings 
at its meetings. " The papers thought that the Browning 
Society was an assemblage of long-haired aesthetes," Shaw once 
remarked to me ; " in truth, it was a conventicle where pious 
ladies disputed about religion with Furnival, and Gonner and 
I egged them on." * When Furnival founded the Shelley So- 
ciety, Shaw, of course, joined that, and became an extremely 
enthusiastic and energetic member. It was at the Shelley 
Society's first large meeting that Shaw startled London by 
announcing himself as, " like Shelley, a Socialist, an atheist, 
and a vegetarian." f Shaw was afterwards active in forwarding 
the fine performance of The Cenci, given by the Shelley Society, 
before it succumbed to its heavy printer's bills. Such were 
Shaw's recreations; but his main business was Socialism. It 
was first come first served with Shaw. Whenever he received 

* The Gonner here referred to is E. C. K. Gonner, M.A., now Brunner 
Professor of Economic Science at the University College, Liverpool. 

f While Shaw has stated publicly numbers of times that he was an 
atheist, an explanation here is necessary. Shaw has always had a strong 
sense of spiritual things; his declarations of atheism should always be 
taken with the context. "If this be religion," he has virtually said in 
reply to someone's exposition of religion, "then I am an atheist." In the 
case of Shelley, it is perfectly plain that Shaw meant that he was all these 
things— a Socialist, an atheist and a vegetarian— in the Shelleyan sense. 

135 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

an invitation for a lecture, like his own character Morell, he 
gave the applicant the first date he had vacant, whether it was 
for a street corner, a chapel, or a drawing-room. He spoke to 
audiences of every description, from University dons to London 
washerwomen. From 1883 to 1895, with virtually no exception, 
he delivered a harangue, with debate, questions, and so on, 
every Sunday — sometimes twice or even thrice — and on a good 
many weekdays. This teeming and tumultuous life was passed 
on many platforms, from the British Association to the triangle 
at the corner of Salmon's Lane in Limehouse. 

In 1888, when he became a critic of music, Shaw was re- 
stricted solely to lectures on Sundays, as he could not foresee 
whether he should have the opera or a concert to attend on 
week-nights. It is remarkable how much he managed to do, 
even with this handicap, especially as he had to speak usually 
on short notice.* At last, as was inevitable with a man burning 
the candle at both ends, the strain began to tell; Shaw found 
it impossible to deal with all the applications he received. For 
an advanced and persistently progressive thinker like Shaw, the 
unavoidable repetition of the old figures and the old demonstra- 
tions in time grew irksome. He felt the danger of becoming, 
like Morell, a windbag — what George Ade calls a " hot-air ma- 
chine." By 1895, the machine was no longer by any means in 
full blast; the breakdown of Shaw's health, in 1898, finished him 
as a systematic and indefatigable propagandist. His work 
went on almost uninterrupted, however, although it was no 
longer explicit propagandism. Indeed, he worked more strenu- 
ously than ever on the St. Pancras Vestry, now the St. Pancras 
Borough Council. Since 1898, Shaw has lectured only occa- 

* " Take the amusing, cynical, remarkable George Bernard Shaw, whose 
Irish humour and brilliant gifts have partly helped, partly hindered the 
(Fabian) Society's popularity. This man will rise from an elaborate criti- 
cism of last night's opera or Richter concert (he is the musical critic of the 
World), and after a light, purely vegetarian meal, will go down to some 
far-off club in South London or to some street corner in East London, or 
to some recognized place of meeting in one of the parks, and will there 
speak to poor men about their economic position and their political duties." — 
William Clarke, in The Fabian Society and Its Work. Preface to Fabian 
Essays. Ball Publishing Co., Boston, 1908. 

136 






THE CART AND TRUMPET 

sionally, but often enough for a man who wishes to preserve 
his health and strength. His labour as head of the Fabian So- 
ciety, during the years 1906-7, in giving form and definiteness 
to the policy of that society, was one of the greatest works of 
his life — a work to which he gave his time and energy without 
stint. Many of his Fabian colleagues assured me that no one 
but Bernard Shaw could have accomplished so signal and so 
sweeping a victory. Within a year or two, he will doubtless 
resign his arduous duties as head and centre of the Fabian 
Society. And it is probable, he recently told me, that he will 
never again undertake another platform campaign. 

Shaw's " knack of drafting things," as he calls it, has played 
no inconsiderable figure in his career. Simultaneously with his 
desperate attack on the platform, Shaw was acquiring what he 
denominates the " committee habit." Whenever he joined a 
society — even the Zetetical — his marked executive ability soon 
placed him on the committee. In learning the habits of public 
life and action simultaneously with the art of public speaking, 
he gained a great deal of valuable experience — experience which 
cannot be acquired in conventional grooves. The constant and 
unceremonious criticism of men who were at many points much 
abler and better informed than himself, developed in Shaw two 
distinctive traits — self-possession and impassivity. It is certain 
that his experience as a man of affairs actively engaged in public 
work, municipal and political, gave him that behind-the-scenes 
knowledge of the mechanism and nature of political illusion 
which seems so cynical to the spectators in front. 

According to the current view, Shaw has always been a 
voracious man-eater, like a lion going about seeking whom he 
might devour. On the contrary, instead of flinging down the 
gauntlet to any and every one, Shaw never challenged anyone 
to debate with him in public. To Shaw, it seemed an unfair 
practice for a seasoned public speaker, and no test at all of 
the validity of his case — a duel of tongues, of no mort value 
than any other sort of duel. In the eighties, the Socialist 
League, of which William Morris was the leading figure, made 
an effort to arrange a debate between Shaw and Charles Brad- 
laugh, who had graduated from boy evangelism to the rank of 

137 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the most formidable debater to be found in the House of 
Commons. In more than one place, but notably in The Quintes- 
sence of Ibsenism, Shaw has paid the highest tribute to the 
remarkable qualities of Bradlaugh as thinker and dialectician. 
The Socialist League challenged Bradlaugh to debate, and 
chose Shaw as their champion, although he was not even a 
member of that body. Bradlaugh made it a condition that 
Shaw should be bound by all the pamphlets and utterances of 
the Social Democratic Federation, a strongly anti-Fabian body. 
Had Shaw been richer in experience in such matters, he would 
undoubtedly have let Bradlaugh make what conditions he 
pleased, and then said his say without troubling about them. 
As it was, Shaw proposed a simple proposition, " Will Social- 
ism benefit the English people ? " with a simple, general definition 
of Socialism. But Bradlaugh refused this; and the debate — 
as Bradlaugh probably intended — did not come off. At the 
time, Shaw was somewhat relieved over the issue, being very 
doubtful of his ability to make any great showing against 
Bradlaugh; he has since privately expressed his regret that the 
debate did not take place. Bradlaugh was a tremendous de- 
bater, and in point of " personal thunder and hypnotism " 
Shaw would have been, in sporting parlance, outclassed. But 
to Shaw, whose forte is always offence, it would have been a great 
gratification to tackle Bradlaugh in his own hall — the Hall of 
Science, in Old Street, St. Luke's. At least Shaw could have 
had his say. 

At a later time, Bradlaugh debated the question of the Eight- 
Hours' Day with H. M. Hyndman — their second platform 
encounter. But both sides were dissatisfied, as neither of them 
stuck to his subject, and the result was inconclusive. A debate 
on the same question was then arranged between Shaw and 
G. W. Foote, Bradlaugh's successor as President of the National 
Secular Society. In this, Shaw's only public set debate with the 
exception of one in earlier days at South Place chapel, the ques- 
tion was ably and carefully argued by both parties, without 
rancour, bitterness, or personal abuse.* The debate lasting 

* In a long contemporary account of the debate, a French newspaper 
commented approvingly on the high tone maintained throughout, placing 

138 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

two nights, and presided over by Mr. G. Standring and Mr. 
E. R. Pease in turn, was held at the Hall of Science, London, 
on January 14th and 15th, 1891. The verbatim report, which 
is still procurable, exhibits the best qualities of Shaw as a cool- 
headed, logical debater. His two speeches, markedly ironical 
in tone, are frequently punctuated by the bracketed (applause). 
Mr. Foote closed one of his speeches with the rather effulgent 
peroration, " Every question must be threshed out by public 
debate. Let truth and falsehood grapple — whichever be truth 
and whichever be falsehood ; for, as grand old John Milton said, 
} Whoever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open en- 
counter? '" — a sentiment greeted with loud applause. To 
which Shaw delightfully responded : " I do not know, gentlemen, 
what a free and open encounter might bring about ; but if John 
Milton asks me whoever saw truth put to shame in such an 
encounter with falsehood as it has a chance of having in the 
present condition of society, then I reply to John Milton that 
George Bernard Shaw has seen it put to shame very often." 
Shaw maintained that a reduction of hours would raise wages, 
not prices, and that doing it by law was the only possible way 
of doing it. His closing words clearly mirror his view of the 
mission of Socialism, the reason of its existence. 

" I can only say, for myself, that the debate has been 
a pleasant one to me, because of the friendly terms on 
which Mr. Foote and I stand. I even imagine there is a 
bond between Mr. Foote and myself that may serve a little 
to explain this. Mr. Foote and I, on a certain subject — 
the established religion of this country — entertain the same 
views. Now, those views have directed our attention very 
strongly towards the necessity of maintaining the freedom 
of the individual to hold what views he likes, to have free- 
dom of speech and association for the purpose of following 
out all his conclusions, and establishing a genuine culture 

the English in sharp contrast with French debates on similar subjects, 
which were not regarded as unqualified successes unless they broke up in 
personal encounters, with the attendant imprecations: " Assassins I A baa 
fo* Socialities ! A la lanternet" 

139 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

founded on facts, and not on the dogmas of any church 
whatsoever. I confess that in the days before I had studied 
economic questions I was filled with the necessity of indi- 
vidual freedom on these points, and that I also had that 
strong distrust of the State which Mr. Foote has expressed 
here to-night. But when my attention was turned to the 
economic side of the question, I soon became convinced that 
the real secret of the State's hostility to the advance of 
reasonable views was that Reason condemned the propertied 
institutions of this country. Property is the real force 
that hypocritically expresses itself as Religion. I there- 
fore came to the conclusion that we shall never get out 
of the mess we are in until the workers come to understand 
that they are already deprived of individual freedom by 
the irresistible physical force of the State, and that they 
can escape from its oppression only by seizing on the 
political power, and using that very State force to emanci- 
pate themselves, and impose their will on the minority which 
now enslaves them. That is the reason that, just as I urge 
the importance of individual freedom of speech, so I also 
urge on the workers that they cannot possibly help them- 
selves by individual action so long as this terrible State 
is outside them, and ready to cut them down at every 
point. I believe that they can, by concerted action, not 
merely in trade unions, but in a united democracy, get 
complete control of the State, and use its might for their 
own purposes; and when they once come to understand 
this, I believe their emancipation will only be delayed until 
they have learned from experience the true conditions of 
social freedom." * 

There is another feature of Shaw's career as a public speaker 
which exhibits his attitude towards the work in life he had set 
before him. Shaw fights for what seems to many less like 
liberty than licence of speech. He never submitted his intelli- 

* The Legal Eight Hours Question. A two-nights' public debate be- 
tween Mr. G. W. Foote and Mr. George Bernard Shaw. Verbatim Report. 
London: R. Forder, 28, Stonecutter Street, E.C. 1891. 

140 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

gence, his will, or his power to alien domination. He has never 
belonged to any political party, rightly considered, never 
cringed under any lash, never realized in his own experience what 
he himself has called the only real tragedy : " the being used by 
personally-minded men for purposes which you recognize as 
base." It was the determination to remain untrammelled in 
thought and action which forbade his ever accepting payment 
for speaking. Very often provincial Sunday Societies invited 
him to come down for the usual ten guineas fee and give the 
usual sort of lecture, avoiding politics and religion. Shaw's 
invariable answer to such requests was that he never lectured 
on anything but politics and religion, and that his fee was the 
price of his railway ticket third-class, if the place was further 
off than he could afford to go at his own expense. The Sunday 
Society would then " come around " and assure Shaw that he 
might, on these terms, lecture on anything he liked; and he 
always did. Occasionally, to avoid embarrassing other lecturers 
who lived by lecturing, the thing was done by a debit and credit 
entry : that is, Shaw took the usual fee and expenses, and gave 
it back as a donation to the society. Shaw once related to me 
the circumstances of a most interesting contretemps, which 
alone would suffice to justify his desire for freedom of speech, 
his wisdom in arming himself against the accusation of being 
a professional agitator. " At the election of 1892, I was mak- 
ing a speech in the Town Hall of Dover, when a man rose and 
shouted to the audience not to let itself be talked to by a hired 
speaker from London. I immediately offered to sell him my 
emoluments for five pounds. He hesitated; and I came down 
to four pounds. At last I offered to take five shillings — half-a- 
crown — a shilling — sixpence — for my fees, and when he would 
not take them at that, claimed that he must know perfectly 
well that I was there at my own expense. If I had not been 
able to do this, the meeting, which was a difficult and hostile 
one (Dover being a hopeless, corrupt Tory constituency) would 
probably have been broken up." 

As Mr. Clarence Rook has remarked, London first opened 
her eyes in wonder over the versatile " G. B. S." when she dis- 
covered that in the daytime he preached revolt to the grimy 

141 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

East from a tub, and in the evening sent William Archer and 
the cultured West into peals of merriment over his Arms and 
the Man. In those halcyon transpontine days London began 
to take pains to be present at Shaw's delightful dialectical per- 
formances at Battersea. Shaw lectured often in Battersea be- 
cause it was John Burns' stronghold. Never was Shaw's sky- 
rocketing brilliance more effectively displayed than in one of 
his orations at the Washington Music Hall, with Clement Ed- 
wards in the chair. In this oration he proved that no con- 
clusion could be drawn from a bare profession of Socialism as 
to what side a man would take on any concrete political issue. 
In speaking of this remarkable effort, Mr. Shaw recently told 
me the following incident : " I remember hearing a workman say 
to his wife as I came up behind them on my way to the station: 
' When I hear a man of intellect talk like that for a whole 
evening, it makes me feel like a worm.' Which made me feel 
horribly ashamed of myself. I felt the shabbiest of impostors, 
somehow, though really I gave him the best lecture I could." 
With the exception of his two nights' wrestle with G. W. Foote, 
Shaw's most sustained effort — an oration lasting about four 
hours — was delivered in the open air on a Sunday morning at 
Trafford Bridge, Manchester. Shaw takes pleasure in declaring 
that one of his best speeches, about an hour and a half long, 
was delivered in Hyde Park in the pouring rain to six policemen 
sent to watch him, and the secretary of the little society that had 
invited him to speak. " I was determined to interest those 
policemen, because as they were sent there to listen to me, their 
ordinary course, after being once convinced that I was a rea- 
sonable and well-conducted person, would be to pay no further 
attention. But I quite entertained them. I can still see 
their waterproof capes shining in the rain when I shut my 
eyes." 

Courage and daring, as well as fertility and inventiveness, 
often enabled Shaw to carry his point or to have his say, in the 
face of violent and almost invincible opposition. He has more 
than once actually voted against Socialism in order to forward 
the motion in hand. And once, in St. James's Hall, London, 
at a meeting in favour of Woman's Suffrage, he ventured with 

142 






THE CART AND TRUMPET 

success upon a curious trick, the details of which he once related 
to me : 

" Just before I spoke a hostile contingent entered the 
room, and I saw that we were outnumbered, and that an 
amendment would be carried against us. They were all 
Socialists of the anti-Fabian sort, led by a man whom I 
knew very well, and who was at that time worn out with 
public agitation and private worry, so that he was excita- 
ble almost to frenzy. It occurred to me that if they, instead 
of carrying an amendment, could be goaded to break up 
the meeting and disgrace themselves, the honours would 
remain with us. I made a speech that would have made 
a bishop swear and a sheep fight. My friend the enemy, 
stung beyond endurance, dashed madly to the platform 
to answer me then and there. His followers, thinking he 
was leading a charge, instantly stormed the platform, and 
broke up the meeting. Then the assailants reconstituted 
the meeting and appointed one of their number chairman. 
I then demanded a hearing, which was duly granted me as 
a matter of fair play, and I had another innings with 
great satisfaction to myself. No harm was done and no 
blow struck, but the papers next morning described a scene 
of violence and destruction that left nothing to be desired 
by the most sanguinary schoolboy." 

Like Ibsen, Shaw has barely escaped the honour of being im- 
prisoned — an honour which, it is needless to say, he never 
sought. Fortunately for Shaw, the religious people always 
joined with the Socialists to resist the police. Twice, in dif- 
ficulties raised by attempts of the police to stop street meetings, 
Shaw was within an ace of going to prison. The first time, 
the police capitulated on the morning of the day when Shaw 
was the chosen victim. The second time Shaw was so fortunate 
as to have in a member of a rival Socialist society a disputant 
for the martyr's palm. One can sympathize with Shaw's secret 
relief when, on a division, his rival defeated him by two votes ! 

One of the most remarkable speakers in England to-day, Ber- 
nard Shaw is not simply a talent, a personality : he is a public 

143 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

institution. People flock to his lectures and addresses, and his 
bons mots are quoted in London, New York, Berlin, Vienna and 
St. Petersburg. He is the most universally discussed man of 
letters now living. Not since Byron has any British author 
enjoyed an international audience and vogue comparable to 
that enjoyed by Bernard Shaw. No one in our time is Shaw's 
equal in searching analysis and trenchant exposition of the ills 
of modern society. His ability to see stark reality and to know 
it for his own makes of him the most powerful pamphleteer, 
the most acute journalist-publicist since the days of Swift. 
His indictments of the fundamental structure of contemporary 
society prove him the greatest master of comic irony since the 
days of Voltaire. Inferior to Anatole France in artistry and 
urbanity, Shaw excels him in the strenuousness of his personal 
sincerity and in the scope of his purpose. Shaw's manner of 
speaking is as individual, as distinctive, as is his style as an 
essayist or his fingering as a dramatist. That priceless and 
inalienable gift which has helped to make Jean Jaures the leader 
of modern Socialists — the power of touching the emotions — is 
a quality which Shaw, like Disraeli before him, wholly lacks. 
In Shaw there is no spark of the mesmeric force, the hypnotic 
power of the born orator; he lacks that romance, that power 
of dramatic visualization, which is a quality of all true oratory. 
While it is true that people do not " orate " in England as 
they do in America, still there is a vast difference between the 
born orator, like Jaures or Mrs. Besant, and the practised 
public speaker, like Shaw. All that could be acquired, Shaw 
acquired. Not Charles Bradlaugh himself had a more thorough 
training than had Shaw. He is facile, fluent and fertile; he 
does not leave all his qualities behind him when he mounts 
the platform. In fine, Shaw has fulfilled to the letter his early 
vow, solemnly taken the night he joined the Zetetical Society. 
He has delivered considerably more than a thousand public 
addresses, and the best of them were masterpieces of their kind. 
And yet Shaw has only a very ordinary voice; and in order 
to make himself comfortably heard by a large audience he has 
to be very careful with his articulation and to speak as though 
he were addressing the auditor furthest from him. 

144? 






THE CART AND TRUMPET 

With his long, loose form, his baggy and rather bizarre 
clothes, his nonchalant, quizzical, extemporaneous appearance; 
with his red hair and scraggly beard, his pallid face, his bleak 
smile, his searching eyes flashing from under his crooked brows ; 
with his general air of assurance, privilege and impudence — Ber- 
nard Shaw is the jester at the court of King Demos. Startling, 
astounding, irrepressible, he fights for opposition, clamours 
for denial, demands suppression. Shaw was once completely 
floored by a workman, who rose after he had completed a mag- 
nificent pyrotechnic display, and said : " I know quite well that 
Bernard Shaw is very clever at argument, and that when I 
sit down he will make mincemeat of everything I say. But 
what does that matter to me? I still have my principles." 
Shaw had to admit, as he once told me in speaking of the 
incident, that this was unanswerable and thoroughly sound 
at bottom. " Call me disagreeable, only call me something," 
clamours Shaw ; " for then I have roused you from your stupid 
torpor and made you think a new thought." The incarnation 
of intellect, not of hypnotism, of reason, not of oratory, this 
strange image of Tolstoy as he was in his middle years has 
always made his audience think new thoughts. He has never 
given the audience what it liked; he has always given it what 
he liked, and what he thought it needed: a bitter and tonic 
draught. The successes of the orator who is the mere mouth- 
piece of his audience have never been his. But he has achieved 
a more enviable and more arduous distinction; I have heard 
him say with genuine pride that more than once he has been 
the most unpopular man in a meeting, and yet carried a reso- 
lution against the most popular orator present by driving 
home its necessity. For the transports which the popular 
orator raises by voicing popular sentiment Shaw has no use. 
Of the orator's power of entrancing people and having his 
own way at the same time he has never had a trace. He is 
the arch-foe of personal hypnotism, of romance, of sensuous 
glamour. He has sought the accomplishment of the demand of 
his will; he never practised speaking as an art or an accom- 
plishment. The desire for that, he once told me, would never 
have nerved him to utter a word in public. Just as Zola used 

145 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

his journalistic work as a hammer to drive his views into the 
brain of the public, Shaw used his dialectical skill as a weapon, 
as a means to the end of making people think. One might truly 
say of all the things that he has either spoken or written : " lis 
donnent a penser furieusement" As a speaker, he first startled 
and provoked his audience to thought, and then annihilated their 
objections with the sword of logic and the rapier of wit. His 
ready answer for every searching query, his instantaneous leap 
over every tripping barrier, seemed to the novice a proof of 
very genius. To strange audiences, his readiness in answering 
questions and meeting hostile arguments seemed astonishing, 
miraculous. On several different occasions I have heard Mr. 
Shaw modestly give the explanation of this apparently magic 
performance. " The reason was that everybody asks the same 
questions and uses the same arguments. I knew the most ef- 
fective replies by heart. Before the questioner or debater had 
uttered his first word I knew exactly what he was going to 
say, and floored him with an apparent impromptu that had 
done duty fifty times before." Shaw always carefully thought 
out the thing for himself in advance, and, which is far more 
important, had thought out not only an effective, but also a 
witty answer to the objections that were certain to be raised. 
This is the secret of Shaw's success in every task which he has 
undertaken: to think each thing out for himself, and to couch 
it in terms of scathing satire and fiery wit. His is the sceptical 
Socratic method pushed to the limit. 

Confronted with the point-blank question : " To what do you 
owe your marvellous gift for public speaking? " Shaw charac- 
teristically replied : " My marvellous gift for public speaking is 
only part of the G. B. S. legend. I am no orator, and I have 
neither memory enough nor presence of mind enough to be a 
really good debater, though I often seem to be when I am on 
ground that is familiar to me and new to my opponents. I 
learned to speak as men learn to skate or to cycle — by doggedly 
making a fool of myself until I got used to it. Then I practised 
it in the open air — at the street corner, in the market square, 
in the park — the best school. I am comparatively out of prac- 
tice now, but I talked a good deal to audiences all through the 

146 



THE CART AND TRUMPET 

eighties, and for some years afterwards. I should be a really 
remarkable orator after all that practice if I had the genius 
of the born orator. As it is, I am simply the sort of public 
speaker anybody can become by going through the same mill. 
I don't mean that he will have the same things to say, or that 
he will put them in the same words, for, naturally, I don't leave 
my ideas or my vocabulary behind when I mount the tub; but 
I do mean that he will say what he has to say as movingly as 
I say what I have to say — and more, if he is anything of a 
real orator. Of course, as an Irishman, I have some fluency, 
and can manage a bit of rhetoric and a bit of humour on occa- 
sion, and that goes a long way in England. But ' marvellous 
gift ' is all my eye." * 

* Who I Am, and What I Think. Part I. The Candid Friend, May 
11th, 1901. 



147 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

" Of course, people talk vaguely of me as an Anarchist, a visionary, and 
a crank. I am none of these things, but their opposites. I only want a 
few perfectly practical reforms which shall enable a decent and reasonable 
man to live a decent and reasonable life, without having to submit to the 
great injustices and the petty annoyances which meet you now at every 
turn." — George Bernard Shaw: an Interview. In The Chap-Book, No- 
vember, 1896. 

"Economy is the art of making the most of life. 
The love of economy is the root of all virtue." 

— The Revolutionist's Handbook. In Man and Superman. 



CHAPTER VI 

I ONCE heard a Socialist of world-wide renown accuse Ber- 
nard Shaw of an inconsistency which, to him, was little short 
of inexplicable. To every charge of inconsistency, Shaw is 
always ready with the effective rejoinder: " Vhomme absurde est 
celui qui ne change jamais," To Shaw, the stationary is the 
stagnant, evolution is progress. That rare literary phenomenon, 
a master of the comic spirit, Shaw is not only willing to admit 
for the nonce the inconsistencies in his own make-up: he is 
positively eager to make thereof genuine comic capital. 

To the public, Shaw is his own greatest paradox. What 
defence, they ask, can be devised for a man rooted in Nietz- 
scheism, who champions the Socialism which Nietzsche mocked? 
Reconcile the ardent apostle of the levelling democracy of a 
Social-Democratic Republic with the avowed advocate of the 
doctrines of Ibsen and Nietzsche, the intellectual aristocrats of 
this distinctly social era? Identify the agitation for interna- 
tional disarmament, for universal peace, with one who sings 
of arms and the superman? The Irish Nietzsche, the daring 
pilgrim in search of a moral Ultima Thule, with one who has 
forcibly declared the impossibility of anarchism? The evan- 
gelist preaching the brotherhood of man with one who repudi- 
ates the pacifying sedative : " Sirs, ye are brothers," in the 
statement that he has no brothers, and if he had, he would in 
all probability not agree with them? What faith is to be put 
in the economic grounding of one who, in the course of two 
or three years, turned from vigorous defence of Marx's value 
theory to its " absolute demolition, on Jevonian lines, with his 
own hand"? 

It is very difficult to understand Shaw's fundamental philoso- 
phy of Socialism without a thorough knowledge of the evolu- 
tionary course of his thought. The particular brand of So- 
cialism denominated Shavian is not a bundle of prejudices of 

151 



y 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

an immature youth, but the integration of years of day-by-day 
observations of life and character, as well as of political and 
economic science. The diversities of Socialistic faith have been 
wittily exhibited by Shaw in the opening scenes of the third 
act of Man and Superman. Roughly speaking, there are three 
kinds of Socialists : theoretical, Utopian and practical. Lassalle 
and Marx, Liebknecht and Bebel, Guesde and Jaures, Hynd- 
man and Kropotkin, Shelley and Morris, George and Bellamy, 
Shaw and Webb, carry the stamp of the cobweb-spinner, the 
dreamer, or of the man of affairs. It is Shaw's supreme dis- 
tinction that, beginning as doctrinaire, he has ended as practical 
opportunist. He has sought to traverse the chasm between 
democracy and social-democracy, by the aid of a solid economic 
structure, rather than by the rainbow bridge of sentimentality 
and Utopism. No scheme finds favour in his eyes which does 
not irresistibly commend itself to his intelligence. He has 
found the " true " doctrine of Socialism in repudiation of the 
follies of Impossibilism. 

Shaw has unhesitatingly given credit to Henry George for 
the great impetus he gave to Socialism in England, and, in 
particular, for the important part George played in his own 
career. In speaking of the memorable evening in 1882, when, 
under the inspiration of George's stirring and eloquent words, 
he first began to realize the importance of the economic basis, 
Shaw recently wrote : * 

" One evening in the early eighties I found myself — I 
forget how and cannot imagine why — in the Memorial 
Hall, Farringdon Street, London, listening to an Amer- 
ican finishing a speech on the Land Question. I knew he 
was an American, because he pronounced ' necessarily ' — 
a favourite word of his — with the accent on the third sylla- 
ble instead of the first; because he was deliberately and 
intentionally oratorical, which is not customary among shy 
people like the English ; because he spoke of Liberty, Jus- 

* Letter to Hamlin Garland, as Chairman of the Committee, the Progress 
and Poverty dinner, New York, January 24th, 1905. The letter, dated 
December, 1904, was kindly lent me by Mr. Henry George, Jr. 

152 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

tice, Truth, Natural Law, and other strange eighteenth- 
century superstitions ; and because he explained with great 
simplicity and sincerity the views of the Creator, who had 
gone completely out of fashion in London in the previous 
decade and had not been heard of there since. I noticed, 
also, that he was a born orator, and that he had small, 
plump, pretty hands. 

" Now at that time I was a young man not much past 
y twenty-five, of a very revolutionary and contradictory 
temperament, full of Darwin and Tyndall, of Shelley and 
De Quincey, of Michael Angelo and Beethoven, and never 
having in my life studied social questions from the 
economic point of view, except that I had once, in my boy- 
hood, read a pamphlet by John Stuart Mill on the Irish 
Land Question. The result of my hearing the speech, and 
buying from one of the stewards of the meeting a copy 
of ' Progress and Poverty ' for sixpence (Heaven only 
knows where I got that sixpence!), was that I plunged 
into a course of economic study, and at a very early stage 
of it became a Socialist and spoke from that very plat- 
form on the same great subject, and from hundreds of 
others as well, sometimes addressing distinguished assem- 
blies in a formal manner, sometimes standing on a bor- 
rowed chair at a street corner, or simply on the kerbstone. 
And I, too, had my oratorical successes; for I can still 
recall with some vanity a wet afternoon (Sunday, of course) 
on Clapham Common, when I collected as much as sixteen 
and sixpence in my hat after my lecture, for the Cause. 
And that all the work was not mere gas, let the feats and 
pamphlets of the Fabian Society attest ! 

" When I was thus swept into the great Socialist revival 
of 1883, I found that five-sixths of those who were swept 
in with me had been converted by Henry George. This 
fact would have been far more widely acknowledged had it 
not been that it was not possible for us to stop where 
Henry George stopped. . . . He saw only the monstrous 
absurdity of the private appropriation of rent, and he 
believed that if you took that burden off the poor man's 

153 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

back, he could help himself out as easily as a pioneer on 
a pre-empted clearing. But the moment he took an Eng- 
lishman to that point, the Englishman saw at once that 
the remedy was not so simple as that, and that the argu- 
ment carried us much further, even to the point of total 
industrial reconstruction. Thus George actually felt 
bound to attack the Socialism he had created; and the 
moment the antagonism was declared, and to be a Henry 
Georgeite meant to be an anti-Socialist, some of the So- 
cialists whom he had converted became ashamed of their 
origin and concealed it; whilst others, including myself, 
had to fight hard against the Single Tax propaganda." 

However carefully other English Socialists have endeavoured 
to minimize or deny outright the momentous influence of Henry 
George, certainly Shaw has neither denied nor belittled their 
debt. " If we outgrew ' Progress and Poverty ' in many ways, 
so did he himself too; and it is perhaps just as well that he 
did not know too much when he made his great campaign here; 
for the complexity of the problem would have overwhelmed him 
if he had realized it ; or, if it had not, it would have rendered 
him unintelligible. Nobody has ever got away, or ever will 
get away, from the truths that were the centre of his propa- 
ganda: his errors anybody can get away from." And yet 
Shaw's insularity and sense of British superiority sticks out 
in the statement that certain of the English Socialists, includ- 
ing himself, regretted that George was an American, and, there- 
fore, necessarily about fifty years out of date in his economics 
and sociology from the point of view of an older country ! The 
absurdity of such a contention is glaringly patent on comparison 
of Progress and Poverty with the tracts of the Fabian Society 
during its early period: George was at least fifty years ahead 
of the English Socialists, instead of the reverse. With that 
grandiose conceit which is an essential item of his " stock in 
trade," Shaw has expressed his eagerness to play the part of 
Henry George to America. " What George did not teach you, 
you are being taught now by your great Trusts and Combines, 
as to which I need only say that if you would take them over 

154 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

as national property as cheerfully as you took over the copy- 
rights of all my early books, you would find them excellent 
institutions, quite in the path of progressive evolution, and by 
no means to be discouraged or left unregulated as if they were 
nobody's business but their own. It is a great pity that you 
all take America for granted because you were born in it. I, 
who have never crossed the Atlantic, and have taken nothing 
American for granted, find I know ten times as much about 
your country as you do yourselves; and my ambition is to 
repay my debt to Henry George by coming over some day and 
trying to do for your young men what Henry George did 
nearly a quarter of a century ago for me.'* 

While Henry George and his Progress and Poverty were the 
prime motors in directing Shaw to Socialism, it was Karl Marx 
and his Capital that first shunted Shaw on to the economic 
tack. In 1884, the Unitarian minister, Mr. Philip H. Wick- 
steed, contributed to To-Day a criticism of Marx from the point 
of view of the school of mathematician-economists founded in 
England on the treatise on Political Economy published by the 
late Stanley Jevons in 1871.* Mr. Wicksteed, whose writings 
on Dante and Scandinavian literature are well known, was a 
remarkable linguist, a popular preacher, and an excellent man. 
To the fact, however, that he was a mathematician is largely 
attributable his deep interest in Jevons' theory of value, which 
scientifically demolished the classical theory of Adam Smith, 
Ricardo and Cairnes, with its adaptation to Socialism by 
Hodgskin and Marx. To his mathematical training, also, may 
be ascribed the lucidity and logical clarity of his application 
of the Jevonian machinery to Marxian theory. So abject was 
the deification of Marx by English Socialists at that time that 
Hyndman, whom Shaw thought should answer the article, pooh- 
poohed Wicksteed as beneath his notice. But the Omniscience 



* In the early eighties the monthly magazine To-Day was purchased by 
three Socialists: Henry Hyde Champion, Percy Frost and James Leigh 
Joynes. Mr. Wicksteed's article, entitled Das Kapital: a Criticism, ap- 
peared in To-Day, New Series, Vol. II., pages 388-409, 1884; publishers, 
The Modern Press, a printing business conducted by Messrs. H. H. Cham- 
pion and J. C. Foulger. 

155 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

and Infallibility of Marx were rudely shaken : Mr. Wicksteed's 
article had to be answered. Some years later Hyndman accused 
Shaw of having " rushed in " to defend Marx ; but the question 
here is not of what Mr. Hyndman thinks: it is a question of 
fact. Shaw was earnestly requested by the proprietors of To- 
Day to answer Mr. Wicksteed; but he replied at once that 
though he had read Das Kapital he was not an economist, and 
that the reply should come from someone with a real mastery 
of the subject. At last, after a discussion one day in St. Paul's 
Churchyard, Frost disconsolately remarked to Shaw that if he 
wouldn't do it, he supposed he, Frost, must. Suddenly Shaw 
realized, as he very recently told me, that none of the others, 
so far as he could see, knew any more about the subject than he 
himself did; and he consented on the solemn condition that 
Wicksteed was to be allowed space for a rejoinder. Shaw was 
not so blind as not to be deeply impressed by his own ignorance 
of what Carlyle called the " dismal science " ; he realized the 
importance to himself of getting a sound theoretic basis. " I 
read Jevons," he afterwards wrote, " and made a fearful 
struggle to guess what his confounded differentials meant; for 
I knew as little of the calculus as a pig does of a holiday." In 
his article entitled The Jevonian Criticism of Marx, which was 
more of a counterblast than a thorough analysis and discussion 
of Mr. Wicksteed's epoch-making article, Shaw had not a word 
to say in defence of Marx's oversight of " abstract utility." * 
Quite clever in its Shavian way, Shaw's article did not get at 
the root of the matter at all, which was not unnatural, consid- 
ering that he was a novice, and, as he afterwards freely ad- 
mitted, completely wrong in the bargain. After the appearance 
of Mr. Wicksteed's brief rejoinder on pages 177-179 of the 
same volume, the incident was, for some time, closed. 

The discussion only whetted Shaw's interest and left him 
determined to get to the bottom of the economic question. He 
had been tremendously impressed by the first volume of Das 
Kapital, " the real European book," as he called it, which he 
had read in the French translation. Even when he was under 

*This article appeared in To-Day, New Series, Vol. III., pages 22-26, 

1885. 

156 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

this first tremendous impression, his misgivings found expression 
in a published letter, in which he jocularly pointed out that 
what Marx had proved was that we were all robbing each other, 
and not that one class was robbing another. A joke, founded 
on clever ignorance, may be a poor beginning for a career ; 
yet in this way was Shaw's career as an economist begun. Shaw 
never doubted, so green was he, that Hyndman or some other 
leader would at once expose the fallacy in his letter, and teach 
him something thereby. The fact that nobody did probably 
started the misgiving that led him to devote so much time and 
thought to economics. 

It was not without many struggles, however, that Shaw was 
eventually persuaded to see the fallacies in Marx's economics. 
In the Hampstead Historic Society, that mutual aid association, 
and in long private discussions with Sidney Webb, Shaw kept 
at the subject of Marx, defending him by every shift he could 
think of. All the time, at bottom, Shaw was satisfied neither 
with his own position nor with Webb's, which was that of John 
Stuart Mill. He had always mistrusted mathematical symbols 
since the time of his school days, when a plausible schoolboy 
used to prove to him by algebra that one equals two — pre- 
sumably by one of the inadmissible division-by-zero proofs. 
The boy always began by saying: "Let x=a." Shaw saw no 
harm in admitting that, and the proof followed with apparently 
rigorous exactness. " The effect was not to make me proceed 
habitually on the assumption that one equals two," I once 
heard him say with a boyish laugh ; " but to impress upon me 
that there was a screw loose somewhere in the algebraic art, and 
a chance for me to set it right some day when I had time to 
look into the subject." And so, when he saw Jevons' x's, his 
differentials and his infinitesimals, Shaw at once thought of the 
plausible boy, and was fired to find that loose screw in Jevonian 
economics. The difficulty he felt most was that he could not, 
among Socialists, get into a sufficiently abstract atmosphere to 
arrive at the pure theory of the thing. It was essential to 
divorce the discussion absolutely from the social question. For- 
tunately, yet oddly enough, it was Wicksteed himself who helped 
Shaw to what he wanted. One of Wicksteed's friends, a pros- 

157 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

perous stockbroker named Beeton, began inviting a circle of 
friends interested in economics to his house. The To-Day dis- 
cussion had established friendly relations between Shaw and 
Wicksteed ; and Shaw secured an entry to this circle and " held 
on to it like grim death " until after some years it blossomed 
out into The Royal Economic Society, founded the Economic 
Journal, and outgrew Beeton's drawing-room. Mr. Shaw once 
remarked to me that his great difficulty was to see through 
Marx's fallacy in assuming that abstract labour was the unique 
factor by which the celebrated equation of Value was divisible. 
" I couldn't, for the life of me," said Mr. Shaw, " see any 
sense in the equation 2a+3b=8c. I actually bought an Algebra 
and tried to recapture any early knowledge I might have had, 
but it was all gone." And only the other day I ran across this 
book, The Scholar's Algebra, by Lewis Hensley, at a second- 
hand book-shop in London. Under date " 22-8-87," appears the 
following, written in Shaw's remarkably neat stenography: 
" What sudden freak induced me to purchase this book ? I saw 
it offered at a second-hand book-shop in Holborn for one and 
sixpence. For a time I was puzzled by a notion that the sym- 
bols referred to things instead of to numbers. For instance, 
2a+3b appeared to me as absurd as 2 wrens+3 apples." 

In a letter to me Mr. Shaw once related the following story 
of his economic education — a story which gives the lie to his 
own strictures on University education. And in conversation he 
recently admitted to me that this economic training corre- 
sponded closely to the highest form of University instruction.* 
" During those years Wicksteed expounded ' final utility ' to us 
with a blackboard except when we got hold of some man from 

* The leading members of this club were Beeton, Wicksteed, Foxwell, 
Graham Wallas, F. Y. Edgeworth, Alfred Marshall, Edward Cunningham, 
Charles Wright and Armitage Smith. The club met monthly — from No- 
vember to June — during the years 1884 to 1889 inclusive, when it came 
to an end through the formation of what was formally entitled The Eco- 
nomic Club, organized mainly at the instance of Alfred Marshall. It may 
be worthy of mention that Wicksteed dedicated his Alphabet of Econom- 
ics to this club. Shaw joined the club because he wanted to learn abstract 
economics, and he occasionally contributed something to the programme 
himself. On November 9th, 1886, for example, he read a paper before 
the society on the subject of Interest. 

158 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

the 'Baltic' (The London Wheat Exchange), or the like, to 
explain the markets to us and afterwards have his information 
reduced to Jevonian theory. Among university professors of 
economics Edgeworth and Foxwell stuck to us pretty constantly, 
and W. Cunningham turned up occasionally. Of course, the 
atmosphere was by no means Shavian; but that was exactly 
what I wanted. The Socialist platform and my journalistic 
pulpits involved a constant and most provocative forcing of 
people to face the practical consequences of theories and beliefs, 
and to draw mordant contrasts between what they professed 
or what their theories involved and their life and conduct. This 
made dispassionate discussion of abstract theory impossible. At 
Beeton's the conditions were practically university conditions. 
There was a tacit understanding that the calculus of utilities 
and the theory of exchange must be completely isolated from 
the fact that we lived, as Morris's mediaeval captain put it, by 
' robbing the poor.' " 

In the heated discussions over Marx's economic theories which 
followed during the next few years, Shaw enjoyed an immense 
advantage in that nobody else in the Socialist movement had 
gone through this discipline, which required considerable perse- 
verance and deep scientific conviction. It ended, as Shaw main- 
tains, in his finding out Marx and Hyndman completely as 
economists. In Shaw's present view Marx was less an economist 
than a revolutionary Socialist, employing political economy as 
a weapon against his adversaries : to Marx, the economic theory 
of Ricardo was simply a " stick to beat the capitalist dog." 
To Hyndman, doubt of any part of the " Bible of the working 
classes " was Socialist heresy : the whole issue resolved itself into 
the question whether Jevons was a Socialist or an anti-Socialist.* 
No doubt the influence which moved Shaw to devote himself to 
economic studies was his need of a weapon ; but he did not stop 
to ask whether the steel came from a Socialist foundry or not. 
" The Marxian steel was always snapping in my hand," he once 

*As late as 1905 Mr. E. Belfort Bax is found maintaining that Jevons 
was the mere tool of capitalism, seeking to undermine the Marxian theory 
of value in the interests of social order and political stability. Compare 
his article, Socialism and Bourgeois Culture, in Wilshire's Magazine, 1905. 

159 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

remarked to me. " The Jevonian steel held and kept its edge, 
and fitted itself to every emergency. And then, just as one 
loves a good sword for its own sake, so one loves a sound theory 
for its own sake." As a literary artist also, accustomed to 
express himself in terse and pointed phrase, Shaw was fired 
with determination to extricate the theory from its " damned 
shorthand " of mathematical symbols, and put it into human 
language.* 

On the appearance of the English translation from the third 
German edition of Das Kapital, by Samuel Moore and Edward 
Aveling, in 1887, Shaw reviewed it in three consecutive articles. f 
These articles of Shaw's show that in 1887 his conversion by 
Wicksteed was complete. In Shaw's article, Stanley Jevons: 
His Letters and Journal, a review of the Letters and Journal of 
W. Stanley Jevons, which appeared in the Pall Mall Gazette, 
May 29th, 1886, he says: " He (Jevons) was far too orthodox 
in his practical conclusions for those materialists of the science — 
the revolutionary Socialists — who saw in him a mere ' bourgeois 
economist,' as their phrase goes. He does not seem to have 
had any suspicion that Mr. Hyndman and his friends made 
any economic pretensions at all; but it is remarkable that the 
most successful attack so far on the value theory of Karl Marx 
has come from Mr. Philip Wicksteed, a well-known Unitarian 
minister, who is an able follower of Jevons in economics." Shaw 
was now the complete Jevonian, had thrown the Marxian theory 
completely over, and exactly located the step Marx missed. 
Shaw himself readily admits that Marx came within one step 
of the real solution. Whilst Marx left Shaw unconvinced as 
to Marxian economics, he left him profoundly imbued with 

* This Shaw achieved with great success in his review, in three parts, of 
Das Kapital, English translation, which appeared in the National Reformer. 

f The National Reformer, now extinct, then the weekly organ of the 
National Secular Society, editors, Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant; 
policy, Atheism, Malthusianism and Republicanism. These articles, three 
in number, under the general heading Karl Marx and 'Das Kapital/ 
appeared in Vol. I., pages 84-86, 106-108, 117, 118. On receiving a cheque 
for these articles at a rate which he felt sure the National Reformer 
could not afford, Shaw found that the beneficent Mrs. Besant had made 
a contribution from her private purse, which Shaw characteristically hurled 
back with indignant gratitude. 

160 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

Marxian convictions. In Marx, Shaw discerned one who " wrote 
of the nineteenth century as if it were a cloud passing down the 
wind, changing its shape and fading as it goes ; whilst Ricardo 
the stockbroker and De Quincey the high Tory, sat comfortably 
down before it in their office and study chairs as if it were the 
Great Wall of China, safe to last until the Day of Judgment 
with an occasional coat of whitewash." While refusing to deify 
Marx as a god, Shaw lauds him with what is, for him, the rarest 
of panegyrics. " He (Marx) never condescends to cast a 
glance of useless longing at the past : his cry to the present is 
always, ' Pass by : we are waiting for the future.' Nor is the 
future at all mysterious, uncertain, or dreadful to him. There 
is not a word of hope or fear, nor appeal to chance or provi- 
dence, nor vain remonstrance with Nature, nor optimism, nor 
enthusiasm, nor pessimism, nor cynicism, nor any other familiar 
sign of the giddiness which seizes men when they climb to 
heights which command a view of the past, present and future 
of human society. Marx keeps his head like a god. He has 
discovered the law of social development, and knows what must 
come. The thread of history is in his hand." 

The point to be grasped, however, is contained in Shaw's 
admonition : " Read Jevons and the rest for your economics, 
and read Marx for the history of their working in the past, and 
the conditions of their application in the present. And never 
mind the metaphysics." Shaw stood upon the shoulders of 
giants, for Jevons had laid the foundations, and Wicksteed it 
was who first pointed out to English Socialists the flaw inj 
Marx's analysis of wares.* But in that remarkably succinct 
and lucid style for which he is justly famous, Shaw elaborately 
analyzed the questionable points in the Marxian structure and 
explained the latent errors involved, for the comprehension, not 
simply of the economist, but of the man-in-the-street. It is 
neither possible, nor even desirable, here to give the steps by 
which Shaw controverted Marx; reference to Shaw's numerous 

* These ideas seem to have found expression simultaneously in England 
and Austria. Compare The Theory of Political Economy, by W. S. Jevons, 
London, 1871; Grundsatze der Volkswirtschaftslehre, by Anton Menger, 
Vienna, 1871. 

161 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

articles on the subject will give these to the curious. But the 
conclusions he reached are worthy of enumeration.* In the 
first place, Shaw objected to Marx's dogmatic assertion of the 
generally accepted Ricardian theory that " wares in which equal 
quantities of labour are embodied, or which can be produced 
in the same time, have the same value " ; and for the simple 
reason that the Jevonian theory called this dogma into question. 
In the second place, following Wicksteed, Shaw takes Marx 
to task for first insisting that the abstract labour used in the 
production of wares does not count unless it is useful, and then 
contradicting himself by stripping the wares of the abstract 
utility conferred upon them by abstractly useful work. The 
logical consequence of admitting abstract utility as a quality 
of wares produced by abstract human labour is conclusively to 
disconnect value from mere abstract human labour. Marx thus 
adroitly begs the question: as Shaw says : " It is as if he (Marx) 
had proved by an elaborate series of abstractions that liquids 
were fatal to human life, and had finished by remarking : * Of 
course, the liquids must be poisonous.' " Armed with the fact 
of abstract utility, and the Jevonian weapons of " the law of 
indifference " and " the law of the variation of utility," Shaw 
was enabled to prove with mathematical rigour that value does 
not represent the specific utility of the article, but its abstract 
utility ; and not its total abstract utility, but its final abstract 
utility — at the " margin of supply," in Wicksteed's phrase — i.e., 
the utility of the final increment that is worth producing. 
Translated into terms of labour, this means that the value of 
the ware represents, not the quantity of human labour embodied 
in it, but the " final utility," in Jevonian phrase, of the abstract 
human labour socially necessary to produce it. As Shaw puts 
it : " Instead of wares being equal in value because equal quanti- 
ties of labour have been expended on them, equal quantities of 
labour will have been expended on them because they are of 

* The question of the validity of the Marxian theory is not now a live 
subject in England. Mr. Hyndman's defence of the Marxian position is to 
be found in his Economics of Socialism, in which he attempts to demon- 
strate the " final futility of final utility." It is still a mooted question on 
the Continent; compare, for example, the works of Bohm-Bawerk, perhaps 
the most eminent of the " Austrian School " of political economists. 

162 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

equal value (or equally desirable), which is quite another thing. 
That slip in the analysis of wares whereby Marx was led to 
believe that he had got rid of the abstract utility when he had 
really only got rid of the specific utility, was the first of his 
mistakes." Under certain ideal conditions, there is a coinci- 
dence between " exchange value " and " amount of labour con- 
tained " ; but as these ideal conditions seldom, if ever, occur 
in practice, no scientific validity attaches to the Marxian state- 
ment that " commodities in which equal quantities of labour are 
embodied, or which can be produced in the same time, have the 
same value." Lastly, Shaw insists that if Marx's theory of 
value were correct, it would refute, not confirm, Marx's theory 
of " surplus value." The proprietor's monopoly completely 
upsets those ideal conditions on which Marx's theory of value 
is based. It can be demonstrated by Jevonian principles that 
Marx's assumption, that the subsistence wage is the value of 
the labour force, is untenable, even on Marxian principles. 
Marx did not see that it is impossible, according to the " law 
of indifference," for one part of the stock of a commodity 
available at any given time to have value whilst another part 
has none, since no man will give a price for that which he can 
obtain for nothing. Moreover, when he attempts to differentiate 
labour power from steam power, Marx's logic breaks down. As 
Shaw says : " Marx's whole theory of the origin of surplus 
value depends on the accuracy of his demonstration that steam 
power, machinery, etc., cannot possibly produce surplus value. 
If Marx were right then a capital of ten thousand pounds, 
invested in a business requiring nine thousand pounds for ma- 
chinery and plant, and one thousand pounds for wages (or 
human labour power), would only return one-ninth of the 
surplus value returned by an equal capital of which one thousand 
pounds was in the form of plant and nine thousand pounds in 
wage capital. As a matter of fact, the ' surplus value ' from 
both is found to be equal." * 

* These conclusions were reached before the third volume of Capital 
appeared. The editor of the first volume, Mr. Frederick Engels, promised 
that the third volume, when it appeared, would reconcile these and other 
seeming contradictions. Marx does seem to have modified certain of his 
theories in the third volume. 

163 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Shaw saw plainly enough that the theory of value did not 
matter in the least so far as the soundness of Socialism was 
concerned. For, as he once expressed it in a letter to me, " if 
you steal a turnip the theory of the turnip's value does not 
affect the social and political aspect of the transaction." But, 
of course, Hyndman and the few Socialists who had read Marx 
and nothing else, were furious over Shaw's iconoclastic articles 
in the National Reformer. In view of the fact that the oppo- 
nents of Socialism continually damaged the cause of the So- 
cialists by alleging that the Socialists' economic basis was Marx's 
theory and was untenable, with the result that the Socialists 
persisted in accepting the allegation and defending Marx, Shaw 
resolutely forced the quarrel into publicity as far as he could. 
His prime object was to make it clear that the Fabians were 
quite independent of the Marxian value theory. A heated con- 
troversy on the subject in the Pall Mall Gazette of May, 1887, 
engaged in by Shaw, Hyndman, and Mrs. Besant, did not down 
the ghost of the value theory ; for the controversy was reopened 
in To-Day two years later. An Economic Eirenicon, by Graham 
Wallas, was followed by Marx's Theory of Value, contributed 
by H. M. Hyndman, in which, it seems, he merely repeated the 
old Marxian demonstration without making any attempt to meet 
the Jevonian attack. Whereupon Shaw " went for " Hyndman 
in his most aggravating style in an article entitled Bluffing the 
Value Theory, which finished the campaign except for a series 
of letters in Justice by various hands, the tenth of which, in 
July, 1889, was written by Shaw. There were other letters by 
Shaw on the same subject, written at different times, which ap- 
peared in the Daily Chronicle. William Morris never made any 
pretence of having followed the controversy on its abstract 
technical side; and perhaps the most amusing feature of the 
entire campaign was a sort of manifesto which Belfort Bax 
induced Morris to sign, in which Hyndman, Bax, Aveling and 
Morris declared that all good Socialists were Marxites ! Shaw 
was once denounced in public meeting by a Marxian Socialist 
for pooh-poohing Marx as an idiot. His own position, as he 
himself once remarked to me, lay somewhere between this and 
that of worshipping Marx as a god. In one of the most re- 

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SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

markable essays ever written by Shaw, entitled The Illusions of 
Socialism, Shaw pointed out why it was that a difficult and 
subtle theory like that of Jevons could never be as acceptable 
as a crude and simple labour theory like that of Marx, which 
seemed to imply that wealth rightly belonged to the labourer.* 
From the standpoint of the Marxian religionist, the second 
heresy of which Shaw is guilty consists in his recognition of 
the Class War doctrine as a delusion and a suicidal political 
policy. To Shaw, the form of organization deduced from the 
Class War doctrine is always the same. " All you have to do 
is to form a working-class association, declare war on property, 
explain the economic situation from the platform and at the 
street corner, and wait until the entire proletariat (made ' class- 
conscious ' by your lucid lectures) joins you. This being done 
simultaneously in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Rome, Vienna, 
etc., etc., nothing remains but a simultaneous movement of the 
proletarians of all countries, and the sweeping of capitalism 
into the sea because ' ye are many : they are few.' What can 
be easier or more scientific ? " But a study of the history of 
Socialism led Shaw to the discovery that the Class War theory 
had gone to pieces every time it had been invoked. Lassalle 
attempted to organize the imaginary class-conscious proletariat, 
only to be disillusioned before the end of the first year by the 

*In the Pall Mall Gazette the following articles appeared: Marx and 
Modern Socialism, by Shaw, May 7th, 1887, page 3; Hyndman's reply, May 
11th, page 11; Shaw's rejoinder — Socialists at Home (this heading doubt- 
less a jibe of the editor), May 12th, page 11; Hyndman's rejoinder, May 
16th, page 2; Mrs. Besant's article on the same subject, May 24th, page 2. 
In To-Day, Vol. XI., New Series, 1889, appeared: An Economic Eirenicon, 
by Graham Wallas, pages 80-86; Marx's Theory of Value, by Hyndman, 
same volume, pages 94-104; Shaw's reply, Bluffing the Value Theory, fol- 
lowing Hyndman, May, 1889, pages 128-135, was lately reprinted by Eduard 
Bernstein in Sozialistische Monatshefte. Shaw's letter in Justice appeared 
on page 3 of the issue of July 20th, 1889. The fine essay, entitled The 
Illusions of Socialism, quite penetrating in its psychology, although 
caviare to the ordinary reviewer, originally appeared in German in Die 
Zeit (Vienna), in 1896: No. 108, October 24th, and No. 109, October 31st; 
later it appeared in English in Forecasts of the Coming Century, edited 
by Edward Carpenter, Manchester: Labour Press, 1897; it afterwards ap- 
peared in French in L'HumaniU Nouvelle (Ghent and Paris), August, 1900, 
edited by Auguste Hamon, the well-known Socialist and the French trans- 
lator of Shaw's plays. 

165 



■/ 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

" damned wantlessness " of the real proletariat. Owen before 
him likewise had failed, after apparently converting all Trade- 
Unionism to his New Moral World. When Marx planned the 
Socialist side of " The International " in the sixties, he showed 
his contempt for the trade-union side, with the result : " On the 
trade-union side a great success. ... On the Socialist side, 
futility and disastrous failure, culminating, in 1871, in one of 
the most appalling massacres known to history." Marx can 
scarcely be said to have tried to organize the class-conscious 
proletariat; but the moment his useless vituperation of Thiers, 
" brilliant as a sample of literary invective, but useless for the 
buttering of parsnips," made known to English workmen his 
real opinion of bourgeois civilization, they abandoned him in 
horror and left the International member less. In Germany, 
" Liebknecht made no serious headway until he became a parlia- 
mentarian, playing the parliamentary game more pliably than 
Parnell did, though always 6 old-soldiering ' his way with the 
greenhorns by prefacing each compromise with the declaration 
that Social Democracy never compromised." In France, Jaures 
and Millerand have not so much abandoned the Class War doc- 
trine as wholly neglected and ignored it, thus reducing the old 
Guesdist Marxism to absurdity. In England, " the once revo- 
lutionary Social-Democratic Federation has been forced by the 
competition of the quite constitutional Independent Labour 
Party to give up all its ancient Maccabean poetry, and, after 
a period of uselessness and surpassing unpopularity as an anti- 
Fabian Society with a speciality for abusing Mr. John Burns, 
to settle down into a sort of Ultra-Independent Labour Party, 
ready to amalgamate with its rival if only an agreement can 
be arrived at as to which is to be considered as swallowing the 
other." 

Not merely a study of the Class War doctrine from the his- 
torical standpoint, but also an examination into the assumptions 
upon which it rests, have thoroughly convinced Shaw that So- 
cialists have for long been making overdrafts upon their Capital. 
Shaw has never sought to shirk the real point at issue by the 
quibble of substituting the sort of class-consciousness called 
snobbery, mighty as is that social force, for the economic class- 

166 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

consciousness of the German formula. In Shaw's interpretation, 
Hyndman and the Marxists use the term " Class War " to denote 
a war between all the proletarians on one side and all the prop- 
erty-holders on the other — in Schaeffle's phrase " a definite 
confrontation of classes " — which will be produced when the 
workers become conscious that their economic interests are op- 
posed to those of the property-holders. Shaw's position is ef- 
fectively summed up in his words : 

" The people understand their own affairs much better 
than Marx did, and the simple stratification of society into 
two classes . . . has as little relation to actual social 
facts as Marx's value theory has to actual market prices. 
If the crude Marxian melodrama of ' The Class War ; or, 
the Virtuous Worker and the Brutal Capitalist,' were even 
approximately true to life, the whole capitalist structure 
would have tumbled to pieces long ago, as the ' scientific 
Socialists ' were always expecting it to do, instead of con- 
solidating itself on a scale which has already made Marx 
and Engels as obsolete as the Gracchi had become in the 
time of Augustus. By throwing up fabulous masses of 
' surplus value,' and doubling and trebling the incomes of 
the well-to-do middle classes, who all imitate the imperial 
luxury and extravagance of the millionaires, Capitalism has 
created, as it formerly did in Rome, an irresistible 
proletarian bodyguard of labourers whose immediate inter- 
ests are bound up with those of the capitalists, and who 
are, like their Roman prototypes, more rapacious, more 
rancorous in their Primrose partisanship, and more hard- 
ened against all the larger social considerations, than their 
masters, simply because they are more needy, ignorant 
and irresponsible. Touch the income of the rich, and the 
Conservative proletarians are the first to suffer." * 

In Shaw's opinion, the social struggle does not follow class 
lines at all, because the people who really hate the capitalist 

* The Class War, in the Clarion, September 30th, 1904. 

167 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

system are, like Ruskin, Morris, Tolstoy, Hyndman, Marx and 
Lassalle, themselves capitalists, whereas the fiercest defenders 
of it are the masses of labourers, artisans, and employees whose 
trade is at its best when the rich have most money to spend. 
Socialists like Shaw, who " do not accept the class war," are 
simply expressing " first, a very natural impatience of crying 
* War, War ! ' where there is no war ; and, second, their despair 
at seeing Socialism, like Liberalism, perishing because it is try- 
ing to live on the crop of home-made generalizations so plenti- 
fully put forth during the great Liberal boom of 1832-80 by 
middle-class paper theorists like Malthus, Cobden, Marx, Comte 
and Herbert Spencer — fine fellows, all of them, but stupendously 
ignorant of the industrial world." The basic divergence be- 
tween the Fabian and the " S. D. F." policy is epitomized in 
Shaw's words : " There is a conflict of interests between those 
who pay wages and those who receive them ; and this is organ- 
ized by the trade unions. There is another conflict of interests 
between those workers and proprietors whose customers live on 
rent (in its widest economic sense), and those whose customers 
live on wages ; but the lines of this conflict run, not between the 
classes, but right through them, and do not coincide with the 
lines of the trade union conflict. And any form of Socialist 
organization, or any tactics toward the trade union movement, 
based on the theory that the lines of battle do run between the 
classes and not through them, or do coincide with the trade 
union lines of battle, will prove, and always has proved, dis- 
astrously impracticable." Shaw exasperatingly said in a recent 
article * that he refused to agree with anybody on any subject 
whatsoever. " Let them agree with me if my arguments con- 
vince them. If not, let them plank down their own views. I 
will not have my mouth stopped and my mind stifled." And 
those mystic forces — historical development and Progress with 
a large P — in which the Marxists rest their firmest hope, Shaw 
regards in the spirit of Ingoldsby's sacristan : 

* Shaw's position in regard to the Class War is ably set forth in his three 
articles, under the general heading, The Class War, which appeared in 
the Clarion, London; dates: September 30th, October 21st and November 
4th, 1904. 

168 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

"The sacristan he said no word to indicate a doubt; 
But he put his thumb unto his nose, and he spread his fingers out." 

There are two factors which strongly militate against the 
progress of Socialism; the resolute adherence of Socialists to 
those theories and policies of Marx which time, experience, and 
modern economic science have combined to discredit; and the 
tendency of the popular mind to confuse Socialism with 
Anarchism.* Shaw's most important negative and destructive 
achievements consist in those amazingly clever and interesting 
papers in which he attempts to expose Marx's theory of value 
as an exploded fallacy, to show that the Class War will never 
come, and to demonstrate the impossibilities of Anarchism. In 
the technical sense of Socialist economics, Shaw occupies the 
opposite pole to Individualism and Anarchism. And yet in a 
very definite and general sense, Shaw is a thorough-paced indi- 
vidualist and anarchist. If individualist means a believer in the 
Shakespearean injunction " To thine own self be true! ", in the 
Ibsenic doctrine " Live thine own life ! ", then Shaw is an indi- 
vidualist heart and soul. If anarchist means an enemy of con- 
vention, of tradition, of current modes of administering justice, 
of prevailing moral standards, then Shaw is the most revolu- 
tionary anarchist now at large. If, on the other hand, Individ- 
ualist means one who distrusts State action and is jealous of 
the prerogative of the individual, proposing to restrict the one 
and to extend the other as far as is humanly possible, then Shaw 
is most certainly not an Individualist. If Anarchist means 
dynamitard, incendiary, assassin, thief; champion of the abso- 
lute liberty of the individual and the removal of all govern- 
mental restraint; or even a believer, as Communist, in a 

* In 1888 Shaw wrote two very clever articles, which so far seem to have 
escaped attention, although the disguise is so thin as to be negligible. These 
two articles are, respectively, My Friend Fitzthunder, the Unpractical 
Socialist, by Redbarn Wash — note the anagram — {To-Bay, edited by Hubert 
Bland, August, 1888), and Fitzthunder on Himself — A Defence, by 
Robespierre Marat Fitzthunder (To-Day, September, 1888). These very 
amusing papers, both written by Shaw, it is needless to say, constitute a 
reductio ad absurdum of the unpractical and revolutionary Socialist; Fitz- 
thunder is evidently a composite picture, made up from a number of Shaw's 
Socialist confreres. 

169 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

profound and universal sense of high moral responsibility 
present in all humanity, then Shaw is a living contradiction 
of Anarchism. 

Shaw opposes Individualist Anarchism since, under such a 
social arrangement, the prime economic goal of Socialism: the 
just distribution of the premiums given to certain portions of 
the general product by the action of demand, would never be 
attained. As this system not only fails to distribute these 
premiums justly, but deliberately permits their private appro- 
priation, Individualist Anarchism is, in Shaw's view, " the nega- 
tion of Socialism, and is, in fact, Unsocialism carried as near 
to its logical completeness as any sane man dare carry it." 
The Communist Anarchism of Kropotkin, Shaw also opposes 
because of his own lack of faith in humanity at large, in the 
present state of development of the social conscience. If bread 
were communized, the common bread store obviously would be- 
come bankrupt unless every consumer of the bread contributed 
to its support as much labour as the bread he consumed cost 
to produce. Were the consumer to refuse thus to contribute, 
there would be two ways to compel him : physical force and the 
moral force of public opinion. If physical force is resorted to, 
then the Anarchist ideal remains unattained. If moral force, 
what will be the event ? The answer reveals Shaw as a confirmed 
sceptic in regard to the value of public opinion as a moral 
agent. " It is useless," he avers, " to think of man as a fallen 
angel. If the fallacies of absolute morality are to be admitted 
into the discussion at all, he must be considered rather as an 
obstinate and selfish devil who is being slowly forced by the iron 
tyranny of Nature to recognize that in disregarding his neigh- 
bours' happiness, he is taking the surest way to sacrifice his 
own." Under Anarchistic Communism, public opinion would no 
doubt operate as powerfully as now. But, in Shaw's opinion, 
public opinion cannot for a moment be relied upon as a force 
which operates uniformly as a compulsion upon men to act 
morally. Keen, incisive, pitiless, his words descriptive of public 
opinion show how little he is tinged with the poetry, the 
passion, and the religion which are the very life blood of 
Socialism. 

170 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

" Its operation is for all practical purposes quite arbi- 
trary, and is as often immoral as moral. It is just as 
hostile to the reformer as to the criminal. It hangs Anar- 
chists and worships Nitrate Kings. It insists on a man 
wearing a tall hat and going to church, on his marrying 
the woman he lives with, and on his pretending to believe 
whatever the rest pretend to believe. . . . But there is 
no sincere public opinion that a man should work for his 
daily bread if he can get it for nothing. Indeed, it is just 
the other way ; public opinion has been educated to regard 
the performance of daily manual labour as the lot of the 
despised classes. The common aspiration is to acquire 
property and leave off working. Even members of the pro- 
fessions rank below the independent gentry, so-called be- 
cause they are independent of their own labour. These 
prejudices are not confined to the middle and upper classes : 
they are rampant also among the workers. . . . One is 
almost tempted in this country to declare that the poorer 
the man the greater the snob, until you get down to those 
who are so oppressed that they have not enough self-respect 
even for snobbery, and thus are able to pluck out of the 
heart of their misery a certain irresponsibility which it 
would be a mockery to describe as genuine frankness and 
freedom. The moment you rise into the higher atmosphere 
of a pound a week, you find that envy, ostentation, tedious 
and insincere ceremony, love of petty titles, precedence and 
dignities, and all the detestable fruits of inequality of con- 
dition, flourish as rankly among those who lose as among 
those who gain by it. In fact, the notion that poverty 
favours virtue was clearly invented to persuade the poor 
that what they lost in this world they would gain in the 
next." * 

When Shaw attended the International Socialist Congresses 
in Zurich and in London, he reported them in the Star as un- 

* Fabian Tract, No. 45: The Impossibilities of Anarchism, a paper by 
Shaw, written in 1888, read to the Fabian Society on October 16th, 1891, 
and published by the Fabian Society, July, 1893. 

171 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

sparingly as he would have reported a sitting of Parliament. 
The Socialists, amazed and indignant at their first taste of real 
criticism, concluded that Shaw was going over to the enemy. 
This Fabian policy of unsparing criticism, inaugurated and 
carried out ruthlessly by Shaw, ended in freeing the Fabians, in 
great measure, from the illusions of Socialism, and in imparting 
to their Society its rigidly constitutional character. An incident, 
which Mr. Shaw once described in a letter to me, gives one some 
insight into the causes of his reaction against the German 
Socialists' policy of playing to the galleries by spouting revo- 
lutionary rant and hinting catastrophically of impending 
revolutions. 

" At the Zurich Congress I first became acquainted with 
the leaders of the movement on the Continent. Chief 
among them was the German leader Liebknecht, a '48 vet- 
eran who, having become completely parliamentarized, still 
thought it necessary to dupe his younger followers with 
the rhetoric of the barricade. After a division in which 
an attempt to secure unanimity by the primitive method 
of presenting the resolution before the Congress to the 
delegates of the different nations in their various languages 
in several versions adapted to their views, so that whilst 
they believed they were all saying ' Yes ' to the same 
proposition, the wording was really very different in the 
different translations, and sometimes highly contradictory, 
it turned out that the stupidity of the English section had 
baffled the cleverness of the German-Swiss bureau, because 
the English voted ' No ' when they meant ' Yes,' and upset 
the apple-cart. Happening to be close to Liebknecht on 
the platform at the luncheon adjournment, I said a few 
words to him in explanation of the apparently senseless 
action of the English. He looked wearily round at me; 
saw a comparatively young Socialist whom he did not 
know ; and immediately treated me to a long assurance that 
the German Social Democrats did not shrink from a con- 
flict with the police on Labour Day (the 1st of May); 
that they were as ready as ever, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. 

172 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

I turned away as soon and as shortly as I could without 
being rude; and from that time I discounted the German 
leaders as being forty years out of date, and totally negli- 
gible except as very ordinary republican Radicals with a 
Socialist formula which was simply a convenient excuse for 
doing nothing new. 

" When the German leaders visited London in the 
eighties they treated the Fabian Society as a foolish joke. 
Later on they found their error ; and Liebknecht was enter- 
tained at a great Fabian meeting; but to this day the 
German Socialist press does not dare to publish the very 
articles it asks me to write, because of my ruthless criticism 
of Bebel, Singer, and the old tradition of the c old gang ' 
generally. My heresy as to Marx is, of course, another 
horror to the Germans who got their ideas of political 
economy in the '48-'71 period." 

After 1875, let us recall, the old pressure and discontent of 
the eighteen-thirties descended upon England with renewed 
force. In 1881, " as if Chartism and Fergus O'Connor had 
risen from the dead," the Democratic Federation, with H. M. 
Hyndman at its head, inaugurated the revival of Socialist or- 
ganization in England. Like those other haters of the capitalist 
system — the capitalists Ruskin, Morris, Tolstoy, Marx and 
Lassalle — Hyndman " had had his turn at the tall hat and was 
tired of it." Shortly after the formation of the Democratic 
Federation, the Fabian Society, a revolting sect from the Fel- 
lowship of the New Life, founded by Professor Thomas David- 
son, came into being. Hyndman and his Marxists, Kropotkin 
and his Anarchists, did not realize, with Shaw, that the pro- 
letariat, instead of being the revolutionary, is in reality the 
conservative element of society. They refused to accept this 
situation, not realizing that they were confronted by a condi- 
tion, not a theory. " They persisted in believing that the 
proletariat was an irresistible mass of Felix Pyats and Ouidas." 
On the point of joining the Democratic Federation, Shaw de- 
cided to join the Fabian Society instead. He did accept the 
situation, helped, perhaps, as he once said, by his inherited 

173 



/ 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

instinct for anti-climax. " I threw Hyndman over, and got to 
work with Sidney Webb and the rest to place Socialism on a 
respectable bourgeois footing ; hence Fabianism. Burns did the 
same thing in Battersea by organizing the working classes there 
on a genuine self-respecting working-class basis, instead of on 
the old romantic middle-class assumptions. Hyndman wasted 
years in vain denunciation of the Fabian Society and of Burns ; 
and though facts became too strong for him at last, he is still 
at heart the revolted bourgeois." Prior to the year 1886, there 
had been no formal crystallization of the Fabian Society into a 
strictly economic association, avowedly opportunist in its po- 
litical policy ; after September 17th of that year the thin edge 
of the wedge went in. The Manifesto of the Fabian Parlia- 
mentary League contains the nucleus of the Fabian policy of 
to-day.* The Fabian Society was a dead letter until Shaw, 
Webb, Olivier and Wallas joined it; from that moment, it be- 
came a force to be reckoned with in English life. Almost from 
the very first, as Mr. Sidney Webb once wrote me, the Society 
took the colour of Shaw's mordantly critical temperament, and 
bore the stamp of his personality. The promise of the Fabians 
lay in their open-mindedness, their diligence in the study of 
advanced economics, and their resolute refusal of adherence to 
any formula, however dear to Socialist enthusiasts, which did 
not commend itself unreservedly to their intelligence. By 1885, 
it had only forty members ; and in 1886, it was still unable to 
bring its roll of members to a hundred names. In 1900, it 
boasted a membership of eight hundred, and at present about 
twenty-six hundred names are found upon its rolls. t It is 
neither possible nor advisable for me to record the history of 
the Fabian Society — that may be found in the numerous pub- 
lications of the Society. But I cannot refrain from stating that 
the membership increased by forty-three per cent, in the year 
1906-7, that this was a year of unprecedented activity; and 



* Compare the former chapter ; complete details are to be f ound in 
Fabian Tract No. 41, pages 12-15. 

fin the twenty-seventh Annual Report on the work of the Fabian So- 
ciety (for the year ended March 31st, 1910), the membership is given 
as 2,627. 

in 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

that the Society has recently been greatly strengthened by the 
accession of many well-known men in English public life. There 
were then eight Fabians in the London County Council ; and in 
Parliament, Labour and Socialism have in the last five years 
been better represented, I believe, than ever before in the history 
of that body. I have recently talked at length with many of the 
ablest Socialists in England. The remarkable growth of the 
Fabian Society and the Socialist representation in English lit- 
erature, I was told again and again, is not due to any sudden 
and untrustworthy inflation of Socialist values, but is largely 
due to the fact that Bernard Shaw, Sidney Webb, Hubert Bland, 
and their coterie have been planting the seeds for twenty years. 
Such ideas as are embodied in Mr. Lloyd George's budget and 
the Old Age Pension Bill are unmistakable marks of that gradual 
Socialist leavening of English political thought upon which the 
Fabians have been engaged ever since 1884. " The recent 
steady influx into the Fabian Society," Mr. Bland said to me 
energetically, " is a clear proof to my mind that the ideas which 
have been lurking in the air for a long, long time are at last 
taking definite shape simultaneously in the minds of a great 
many people. Such men as Bernard Shaw have brought this 
thing to pass." * 

During the years from 1887 to 1889, the years we are espe- 
cially concerned with at present, compensation for its paucity 
of numbers was found not only in the intellectual capacity, but 
also in the economic inquisitiveness and acquisitiveness of the 

* Worthy of record in connection with the new policy of the Fabian 
Society, although discussion is outside the scope of this work, is the move- 
ment inaugurated by Mr. Holbrook Jackson and Mr. A. R. Orage, after- 
wards joint-editors of the London Socialist organ, The New Age, in the 
foundation of the Leeds Art Club in 1905. " The object of the Leeds Art 
Club," their syllabus read, " is to affirm the mutual dependence of art and 
ideas." This movement, supported by a group of able lecturers, proved 
so successful and so stimulating as to eventuate in the formation of the 
Fabian Art Group (Bernard Shaw presiding over the initial meeting), the 
declared object of which is "to interpret the relation of Art and Philosophy 
to Socialism." Admirable pamphlets and brochures have been published 
under its auspices; and its meetings, and the Fabian Summer School in 
Wales, have been addressed by many of the most brilliant and advanced 
thinkers in England. ♦ 

175 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

leaders in the Fabian Society. This is best revealed in Shaw's 
sketch of this period : 

" By far our most important work at this period was our 
renewal of that historic and economic equipment of So- 
cial-Democracy of which Ferdinand Lassalle boasted, and 
which has been getting rustier and more obsolete ever since 
his time and that of his contemporary, Karl Marx. . . . 
In 1885 we used to prate about Marx's theory of value and 
Lassalle's Iron Law of Wages as if it were still 1870. In 
spite of Henry George, no Socialist seemed to have any 
working knowledge of the theory of economic rent: its 
application to skilled labour was so unheard of that the 
expression ' rent of ability ' was received with laughter 
when the Fabians first introduced it into their lectures and 
discussions ; and as for the modern theory of value, it was 
scouted as a blasphemy against Marx. . . . As to his- 
tory, we had a convenient stock of imposing generaliza- 
tions about the evolution from slavery to serfdom and 
from serfdom to free wage labour. We drew our pictures 
of society with one broad line dividing the bourgeoisie 
from the proletariat, and declared that there were only 
two classes really in the country. We gave lightning 
sketches of the development of the mediaeval craftsman 
into the manufacturer and finally into the factory hand. 
We denounced Malthusianism quite as crudely as the 
Malthusians advocated it, which is saying a great deal; 
and we raged against emigration, national insurance, co- 
operation, trade-unionism, old-fashioned Radicalism, and 
everything else that was not Socialism; and that, too, 
without knowing at all clearly what we meant by Social- 
ism. The mischief was, not that our generalizations were 
unsound, but that we had no detailed knowledge of the 
content of them: we had borrowed them ready-made as 
articles of faith; and when opponents like Charles Brad- 
laugh asked us for details we sneered at the demand with- 
out being in the least able to comply with it. The real 
reason why Anarchist and Socialist worked then shoulder 

176 



J 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

to shoulder as comrades and brothers was that neither one 
nor the other had any definite idea of what he wanted, or 
how it was to be got. All this is true to this day of the 
raw recruits of the movement, and of some older hands 
who may be absolved on the ground of invincible igno- 
rance ; but it is no longer true of the leaders of the move- 
ment in general. In 1887 even the British Association burst 
out laughing as one man when an elderly representative of 
Philosophic Radicalism, with the air of one who was utter- 
ing the safest of platitudes, accused us of ignorance of 
political economy; and now not even a Philosophical Rad- 
ical is to be found to make himself ridiculous in this way. 
The exemplary eye-opening of Mr. Leonard Courtney by 
Mr. Sidney Webb lately in the leading English economic 
review surprised nobody, except perhaps Mr. Courtney 
himself. The cotton lords of the north would never dream 
to-day of engaging an economist to confute us with 
learned pamphlets as their predecessors engaged Nassau 
Senior in the days of the Ten Hours' Bill, because they 
know that we should be only too glad to advertise our 
Eight Hours' Bill by flattening out any such champion. 
From 1887 to 1889 we were the recognized bullies and 
swashbucklers of advanced economics." * 

Not without reason have the Fabians been called the Jesuits 
of the Socialist evangel in England. The " waiting " of the 
Fabian motto is synonymous, not with inaction, but with un- 
flagging energy.f The Fabians eschewed pleasures and recre- 
ations of every kind in favour of public speaking and public 
instruction; their policy has always been one of education and 
permeation. In the year ending April, 1889, to take a single 
example, the number of lectures delivered by members of the 
Fabian Society alone was upwards of seven hundred. In addi- 

* Fabian Tract No. 41, pages 15-16; date, 1892. 

•{■The Fabian motto, suggested by Mr. Frank Podmore, runs: "For the 
right moment you must wait, as Fabius did most patiently when warring 
against Hannibal, though many censured his delays; but when the time 
comes you must strike hard, as Fabius did, or your waiting will be in vain 
and fruitless." 

177 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

tion to writing or editing many publications of the Fabian 
Society, Shaw has delivered, in the last twenty-odd years, con- 
siderably more than a thousand public lectures and addresses. 
Until the close of 1889, the Fabians had confined their propa- 
gandist campaign to three directions: publication of mani- 
festos and pamphlets ; delivery of public addresses and holding 
of conferences, and exciting efforts towards the permeation of 
the Liberal party. In December, 1889, the Fabian Society pub- 
lished the well-known book, Fabian Essays in Socialism, edited 
by Shaw, and containing, in addition to two essays of his own, 
essays by Sidney Olivier, William Clarke, Hubert Bland, Sidney 
Webb, Annie Besant and Graham Wallas.* The authors, con- 
stituting the Executive Council of the Fabian Society, made 
no claim to be more than communicative learners: the book 
was the outcome of their realization of the lack of anything 
like authoritative, and at the same time popular, presentations 
of the political, economic, and moral aspects of contemporary 
Socialism. 

In general, it may be said that the Fabians, while strenuously 
avowing themselves strict evolutionists, are in reality highly 
revolutionary. The boast of the Fabian Society is freedom 
from the illusions and millennial aspirations of the great mass 
of Socialists. It is a society of irreverence and scientific 
iconoclasm, bowing to the fetishism neither of George nor of 
Marx. Towards Marx and Lassalle, some of whose views must 
now be discarded as erroneous or obsolete, the Fabian Society 
insists on the necessity of maintaining as critical an attitude 
as these eminent Socialists themselves maintained towards their 
predecessors St. Simon and Robert Owen. In origin anarchistic 
and revolutionary as could be desired, in spirit the Fabians 
remain anarchistic and revolutionary. In principle avowedly 
orderly and constitutional, in policy frankly opportunist, in 
practice strictly scientific and economic, the Fabians may be 
called the realists of the Socialist movement. They have ruth- 
lessly snatched the masks from the faces of the Utopian 

*This book has now gone into its seventieth thousand, and has been re- 
published in both Germany and America. It is regarded to-day as the 
standard text in English for Socialist lecturers and propagandists. 

178 



EDITED BY G. BERNARD SHAW. 

PRICE ONE SHILLING. 




Essays by G. Bernard Shaw, Sydney Olivier, Wm. Clarke. 
Hubert Bland, Sidney Webb, Annie Besant, C. Waljas. 

Facsimile or Cover Design of Fabian Essays (1890). 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

dreamers and romancers.* While the rank and file of the 
" S. D. F." have been the very good friends of the Fabians, 
the radical differences in their respective policies have precluded 
all possibility of amalgamatipn. As succinctly stated by Shaw : 
" The Fabian Society is a society for helping to bring about 
the socialization of the industrial resources of the country. 
The Social-Democratic Federation is a society for enlisting the 
whole proletariat of the country in its own ranks and itself 
socializing the national industry." The policy of the one is 
fundamentally opportunist; of the other, implacably sectarian. 
The Federation counts no man a Socialist until he has joined it, 
and supports no man who is not a member; the Fabians advise 
concentration of strength to elect that candidate, be he Socialist 
or not, who gives the greatest promise of advancing, in greater 
or less degree, the general cause of Socialism. The Federation 
persistently claims to be the only genuine representative of 
working-class interests in England; the Fabians have never 
advanced the smallest pretensions in that direction. Its policy 
finds ample justification in the recent history of Continental 
Socialism. The tactics of the German Socialist Party, in the 
last few years, have been " Fabianized " by sheer force of cir- 
cumstances ; to-day, this party is, in great measure, both oppor- 
tunist and constitutional, the two essential features of Fabian 
policy. Sharpened in wit by rigorous persecution, Liebknecht 
and his successor Bebel have learned the art of politics through 
experience and exigency. In contemporary France is witnessed 
the signal triumph of Fabian Socialism. The policy of Jaures, 
although under the frown of the " International," will be con- 
tinued in France; and Guesde, despite his barren victory at 
the International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam in 1904, will 
remain only vox clamantis in deserto. The history of the 
Fabian Society, which is the history of Shaw, in the last twenty 
years, bears evidence that the Fabians have stood in the very 
forefront of the battle for collectivist measures, municipal 

* Compare Fabian Tract No. 70: Report on Fabian Policy, the bomb- 
shell thrown by the Fabian Society into the International Socialist Work- 
ers' and Trade Union Congress, 1896. 

180 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

reforms, civic virtue and social progress. As Shaw wrote in 
1900: 

" In 1885 we agreed to give up the delightful ease of 
revolutionary heroics and take to the hard work of practical 
reform on ordinary parliamentary lines. In 1889 we pub- 
lished * Fabian Essays ' without a word in them about the 
value theory of Marx. In 1893 we made the first real 
attack made by Socialists on Liberalism, on which occasion 
the Social-Democratic Federation promptly joined in the 
Liberal outcry against us. In 1896 we affirmed that the 
object of Socialism was not to destroy private enterprise, 
but only to make the livelihood of the people independent 
of it by socializing the common industries of life, and 
driving private enterprise into its proper sphere of art, 
invention and new departures. This year we have led the 
way in getting rid of the traditional association of our 
movement with that romantic nationalism which is to the 
Pole and the Irishman what Jingoism is to the English- 
man. ... In short, the whole history of Socialism dur- 
ing the past fifteen years in England, France, Germany, 
Belgium, Austria and America, has been its disentangle- 
ment from the Liberal tradition stamped on Marx, Engels 
and Liebknecht in 1848, and its emergence in a character- 
istic and original form of its own, modified by national 
character, and, in England, calling itself Fabianism when 
it is self-conscious enough to call itself anything at all." * 

Strangely enough, in view of all the facts, it is customary 
to regard Shaw as a purely destructive and negative spirit. 
The truth is that Shaw stands for certain definite beliefs, 
certain undoubted principles. His is the belief of the un- 
believer, the principle of the unprincipled, the faith of the 
sceptic. 

Not less important than his destructive achievements has 
been his constructive work in practical affairs as Vestryman and 

* Socialism and Republicanism, in the Saturday Review, November 17th, 
1900. 

181 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Borough Councillor. Prior to 1895, roughly speaking, the 
vestries were ignorantly boasted of as the truest products of 
a representative democratic government. " The truth of the 
matter," Mr. Shaw once remarked to me, " is that the vestry, 
as it was actually elected in those days — a few people getting 
together when nobody knew of it and at some place of which 
the public was not notified, and electing themselves members — 
could scarcely be called a representative democratic body. We 
Socialists finally began to realize that the way to get at the 
vestry was to put a programme into their hands. So we sent 
them all a pamphlet, requesting replies — a pamphlet entitled, 
' Questions for Vestrymen,' or something of the sort. The ves- 
trymen were thus forced to the wall and driven to decide upon 
issues. They actually began to make up their minds on many 
subjects of which hitherto they had had no conception. Slowly 
the vestries, under this discipline, began to take on a truly repre- 
sentative character. The personnel of the vestry was now per- 
manently altered for the better. Men were elected who not only 
took an interest in municipal affairs, but likewise were willing 
to do any amount of hard work. I was c co-opted ' — i.e., 
chosen by the committee, by agreement with the opposite 
party, obviously beaten if a vote were taken. So that I 
was fortunate enough to escape the terrors of a popular 
election." 

It is quite beyond the scope of this book to enter into the 
details of Shaw's work as Vestryman, afterwards Borough Coun- 
cillor. Suffice it to say, that he was chosen in 1897, entered 
at once upon the performance of his duties, and prosecuted 
them for several terms with great zeal and tireless energy. His 
various letters to the Press during that period, and occasional 
reminiscences, show that he was always outspoken and vehe- 
ment in behalf of all reforms which tended to the betterment of 
the poorer classes, equalization of public privileges of men and 
women, better sanitary conditions, and the municipalization of 
such industries as promise to give the people at large better 
service and greater value for their money than privately 
operated concerns. The most tangible result of his work as 
Vestryman and Borough Councillor is his book, Municipal 

182 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

Trading, which he once told me he regarded as one of the best 
and most useful things he had ever done.* 

At the expiration of his career as Borough Councillor, he 
stood as the candidate for the Borough of St. Pancras in the 
London County Council — the seat afterwards occupied by the 
well-known actor, Mr. George Alexander. " I was beaten," Mr. 
Shaw recently told me, " because I alienated the Nonconformist 
element by favouring the improvement of the Church schools. 
I was convinced that such improvement would lead to the bet- 
terment of the education of the children. The Nonconformists 
were enraged beyond measure by the proposal, looking with the 
utmost horror upon any measure which tended to strengthen 
the Church. I remember one rabid Nonconformist coming to me 
one day, almost foaming at the mouth, and protesting with 
violent indignation that he would not pay a single cent towards 
the maintenance of the schools of the Established Church. 
' Why, my dear fellow,' I replied, ' don't you know that you 
pay taxes now for the support of the Roman Catholic Church 
in the Island of Malta ? ' Although this staggered the irate 
Nonconformist for the moment, it did not reconcile his element 
to the extension of the principle to London. My contention 
was that under the conditions prevailing at the time, the children 
were poorly taught and poorly housed, the schools badly venti- 
lated, and the conditions generally unsatisfactory. ' Improve all 
the conditions,' I said ; ' appoint your own inspectors, and in the 
course of time you will control the situation. Pay the piper 
and you can call the tune.' But I could not override the tre- 
mendous prejudice against the Church, and I was badly beaten." 
One of Shaw's intimate friends told me not long ago that what 
lost the seat in the L. C. C. for Shaw was his intrepid assertion, 
repeated throughout the campaign, that he and Voltaire were 
the only two truly religious people who had ever lived ! Shaw's 

* For highly appreciative summaries of The Common Sense of Municipal 
Trading (Archibald Constable and Co.), and of Shaw's article, Socialism 
for Millionaires (first published in the Contemporary Review of February, 
1896, and afterwards, in 1901, as Fabian Tract No. 107), compare Mr. Hoi- 
brook Jackson's monograph, Bernard Shaw, pages 114-131. 

183 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

own account of this, when I taxed him with it, was that he 
had often pointed out that the religious opinions of the Free 
Churches (the Nonconformist sects) in England to-day were 
exactly those of Voltaire, and that what I had been told was 
quite as near his meaning as most people contrived to get with- 
out reading him. And only the other day a well-known politician 
and a friend of Shaw's made the remark to me that Shaw 
was an " impossible political candidate," too rash and indi- 
vidualistic in his assertions to avoid alienating many people — 
even some of the very men who under ordinary circumstances 
might confidently be relied upon to support a progressive and 
energetic reformer. 

And yet it is noteworthy that as far back as the year 1889 
Shaw was asked to stand as a Member of Parliament. Below 
is given the text of a letter, from Shaw, at 29, Fitzroy Square, 
W., London, dated March 23rd, 1889, to Mr. W. Sanders, then 
Secretary of the Election Committee of the Battersea branch 
of the S. D. F., now a prominent Fabian and recently member 
of the London County Council. This letter, a copy of which 
was most kindly given me by Mr. Sanders, was sent in reply to 
a letter from him to Mr. Shaw asking him to allow his name 
to be put forward as a candidate for the parliamentary repre- 
sentation of Battersea subsequent to a conference between the 
Battersea L. and R. Association and the Battersea branch of 
the S. D. F. Mr. Shaw was mistaken in addressing Mr. Sanders 
as the Secretary of the Election Committee of the Battersea 
L. and R. Association. 

" Dear Sir, — 

" I wish it were possible for me to thank the Bat- 
tersea L. and R. Association for their invitation, and accept 
it without further words. But there is the old difficulty 
which makes genuine democracy impossible at present — I 
mean the money difficulty. For the last year I have had 
to neglect my professional duties so much, and to be so 
outrageously unpunctual and uncertain in the execution 
of work entrusted to me by employers of literary labour, 

184 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

that my pecuniary position is worse than it was; and I 
am at present almost wholly dependent on critical work 
which requires my presence during several evenings in the 
week at public performances. Badly as I do this at present, 
I could not do it at all if I had parliamentary duties to 
discharge ; and as to getting back any of the old work that 
could be done in the morning, I rather think the action 
I should be bound to take in Parliament would lead to 
closer and closer boycotting. As to the serious literary 
work that is independent of editors and politics, I have 
never succeeded in making it support me ; and in any case 
it is not compatible with energetic work in another direc- 
tion carried on simultaneously. You must excuse my 
troubling you with these details ; but the Association, con- 
sisting of men who know what getting a living means, will 
understand the importance of them. As a political worker 
outside Parliament I can just manage to pay my way and 
so keep myself straight and independent. But you know, 
and the Association will know, how a man goes to pieces 
when he has to let his work go, and then to run into debt, 
to borrow in order to get out of debt by getting into it 
again, to beg in order to pay off the loans, and finally 
either to sell himself or to give up, beaten. 

" If the constituency wants a candidate, I see nothing 
for it but paying him. If Battersea makes up its mind to 
that, it can pick and choose among men many of whom 
are stronger than I. And since it is well to get so much 
good value for the money as can be had, I think poor 
constituencies (and all real democratic constituencies are 
poor) will for some time be compelled to kill two birds with 
one stone, and put the same man into both County Council 
and Parliament. This, however, is a matter which you 
are sure to know your own minds about, and it is not for 
me to meddle in it. 

" Some day, perhaps, I may be better able to take an 
extra duty; for, after all, I am not a bad workman when 
I have time and opportunity to show what I can do; and 
I need scarcely say that if the literary employers find that 

185 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

there is money to be made out of me, they will swallow my 
opinions fast enough, 

" I am, dear Sir, 

" Yours faithfully, 

" G. Bernard Shaw. 
" Mr. W. Sanders." 

In many quarters, even among his Socialist confreres, Ber- 
nard Shaw is regarded as primarily destructive in his proposals. 
And yet, at different times and in various places, he has con- 
structively outlined his programme of complete Socialism. In 
essential agreement with such Collectivists as Emile Vandervelde, 
Jean Jaures and August Bebel, Shaw differs from them only 
in regard to the successive mutations in the process of Socialist 
evolution. The gradual extension of the principle of the income 
tax — e.g., a " forcible transfer of rent, interest, and even rent 
of ability from private holders to the State, without compensa- 
tion," is the scheme of capitalistic expropriation the Collectivists 
have in mind. By a gradual process of development, the im- 
position of gradually increased taxes, the State will secure the 
means for investment in industrial enterprises of all sorts. In- 
stead of forcibly extinguishing private enterprises, the State 
would extinguish them by successfully competing against them. 
Thus, as Proudhon said, competition would kill competition; 
in America, Mr. Gay lord Wilshire never tires of exclaiming: 
" Let the Nation own the Trusts." If, as Shaw claims, the 
highest exceptional talent could be had, in the open market, for 
eight hundred pounds, say, nearly half the existing wages of 
ability and the entire profits of capital would be diverted from 
the pockets of the able men and the present possessors of capital, 
and would find its way into the pockets of the State. The vast 
sum thus accruing to the State would swell the existing wages 
fund, and would be employed in raising the wages of the entire 
community. After the means of production have been So- 
cialized, and the State has become the employer, products or 
riches will be distributed roughly, " according to the labour 
done by each man in the collective search for them." In his 
celebrated tilt with Shaw, Mr. W. H. Mallock attacked the 

186 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

validity of the economics which furnish the substructure of 
Fabian Essays* Mr. Mallock's contention resolves itself into 
the assertion that exceptional personal ability, and not labour, 
is the main factor in the production of wealth. Far from 
repudiating this assertion, Shaw embraced it, he said, in the 
spirit of Mrs. Prig: " Who deniges of it, Betsy? " We support 
and encourage ability, Shaw contends, in order that we may 
get as much as possible out of it, not in order that it may 
get as much as possible out of us. Give men of ability and their 
heirs the entire product of their ability, so that they shall be 
enormously rich whilst the rest of us remain as poor as if they 
had never existed, and " it will become a public duty to kill 
them, since nobody but themselves will be any the worse, and 
we shall be much the better for having no further daily provoca- 
tion to the sin of envy." Accordingly, the business of Society 
is " to get the use of ability as cheaply as it can for the 
benefit of the community, giving the able man just enough 
advantage to keep his ability active and efficient. From the 
Unsocialist point of view this is simply saying that it is the 
business of Society to find out exactly how far it can rob the 
able man of the product of his ability without injuring itself, 
which is precisely true (from that point of view)," though 
whether it is a " reduction of Socialism to dishonesty or of 
Unsocialism to absurdity " may be left an open question. " If 
Mr. Mallock will take his grand total of the earnings of Abil- 
ity," Shaw asserts, " and strike off from it, first, all rent of 
land and interest on capital, then all normal profits, then all 

* Fabian Economics, in the Fortnightly Review, February, 1894. Mr. 
Mallock purposed to show how the defenders of a broad and social Con- 
servatism, as outlined by himself, " may be able, by a fuller understanding 
of it, to speak to the intellect, the heart, and the hopes of the people of this 
country (England), like the voice of a trumpet, in comparison with which 
the voice of Socialism will be merely a penny whistle." Shaw delightfully 
termed his rejoinder, On Mr. Mallock's Proposed Trumpet Performance, 
which brought forth, in the same magazine, not one, but two rejoinders 
from Mr. Mallock. In 1909 an attack by Mr. Mallock on Mr. Keir Hardie 
in the Times provoked Shaw to a fierce onslaught on his old opponent, and 
the Fabian Society presently republished the correspondence and the old 
Fortnightly article under the title, Socialism and Superior Brains. The 
latter, in a shilling edition, is also published by A. C. Fifield, London, in 
the Fabian Socialist Series, 

187 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

non-competitive emoluments attached to a definite status in the 
public service, civil or military, from royalty downwards, then 
all payments for the advantages of secondary or technical edu- 
cation and social opportunities, then all fancy payments made 
to artists and other professional men by very rich commonplace 
people competing for their services, and then all exceptional 
payments made to men whose pre-eminence exists only in the 
imaginative ignorance of the public, the reminder may with 
some plausibility stand as genuine rent of ability." And to Mr. 
Mallock's assertion that " men of ability will not exert them- 
selves to produce income when they know that the State is an 
organized conspiracy to rob them of it," Shaw characteristically 
retorts, " Mr. Mallock might as well deny the existence of the 
Pyramids on the general ground that men will not build 
pyramids when they know that Pharaoh is at the head of an 
organized conspiracy to take away the Pyramids from them 
as soon as they are made." 

Shaw holds the fundamentally sound view that " as to the 
entire assimilation of Socialism by the world, the world has never 
yet assimilated the whole of any ism, and never will." In 
that most subtle and distinguished of all his contributions to 
the Socialist literature of our time, The Illusions of Socialism, 
Shaw has expressed his firm conviction that it is not essential 
for the welfare of the world to carry out Socialism in its 
entirety. Unfettered by the dogmas of a political creed, un- 
hampered by the bonds of a narrow partisanship, Bernard 
Shaw stands forth as a great and free spirit in his prophetic 
declaration that, long before it has penetrated to all corners 
of the political and social organization, Socialism will have 
relieved the pressure to which it owes its elasticity, and will 
recede before the next great social movement, leaving every- 
where intact the best survivals of individualistic liberalism. And 
far from agreeing with Ibsen in his impossibilist declaration that 
the State must go, Shaw not only asserts that we must put up 
with the State, but also expresses no doubt whatsoever that 
under Social-Democracy the few will still govern. It is a mark 
of Shaw's British practicality and clear-sightedness that he rec- 
ognizes in the State a practical instrumentality for effecting 

188 



J 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

and directing social reform. The State is indispensable as a 
means for making possible one great consummation : the devel- 
opment of the strong, sound, creative personality. The unso- 
cial man he regards as a " hopelessly private person." The 
opportunity for the free development of the individual he re- 
gards as the fundamental prerequisite and condition for the 
individual's social and material wellbeing.* " That great joint- 
stock company of the future, the Social-Democratic State, will 
have its chairman and directors as surely as its ships will have 
captains." But this admission involves no endorsement, on 
Shaw's part, of the State as at present constituted. " Bakou- 
nine's comprehensive aspiration to destroy all States and Estab- 
lished Churches, with their religious, political, judicial, financial, 
criminal, academic, economic and social laws and institutions, 
seems to me perfectly justifiable and intelligible from the point 
of view of the ordinary ' educated man,' who believes that 
institutions make men instead of men making institutions." 
The State, as at present constituted, Shaw views as simply a 
huge machine for robbing and slave-driving the poor by brute 
force. While he laughs at the Individualism expressed in Her- 
bert Spencer's The Coming Slavery, at the Anarchy expressed 
in the word Liberty, and in those " silly words " of John Hay 
on the title-page of Benjamin Tucker's paper, Shaw is, never- 
theless, both an individualist and an intellectual anarchist. The 
alleged opposition between Socialism and Individualism, Shaw 
has always strenuously maintained, is false and question-beg- 
ging. " The true issue lies between Socialism and Unsocialism, 
and not between Socialism and that instinct in us that leads 
us to Socialism by its rebellion against the squalid levelling 
down, the brutal repression, the regimenting and drilling and 
conventionalizing of the great mass of us to-day, in order that 
a lucky handful may bore themselves to death for want of 
anything to do, and be afraid to walk down Bond Street with- 
out a regulation hat and coat on." Like Ruskin, Morris and 

* In his analysis of the situation in his native land, he insisted that Home 
Rule was a necessity for Ireland, because the Irish would never be con- 
tent, would never feel themselves free, until Home Rule was granted them. 
It was not a question of logic, but a question of natural right. 

189 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Kropotkin, Shaw sees the whole imposture through and through, 
" in spite of its familiarity, and of the illusions created by its 
temporal power, its riches, its splendour, its prestige, its in- 
tense respectability, its unremitting piety, and its high moral 
pretension." 

At bottom, it was a deeply religious, a fundamentally hu- 
manitarian motive, which drew Shaw into Socialism. The birth 
of the social passion in his soul finds its origin in the individual 
desire to compass the salvation of his fellow man. A burning 
sense of social injustice, a great passion for social reform, di- 
rected his steps. In his inmost being he felt his complicity in 
the social ills of the world. He realized that only by personally 
seeking to effect the salvation of society could he achieve the 
salvation of his own soul. The Will to Socialism was thus 
grounded in a profound individualism : he felt their organic con- 
nection. Socialism was the need of the age ; and it could only 
be achieved through the freedom and development of the 
individual. 

That other wit and paradoxer, Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, told 
the very truth itself when he said that Bernard Shaw " has 
done something that has never been done in the world before. 
He has become a revolutionist without becoming a sentimentalist. 
He has revolted against the cant of authority, and yet con- 
tinued in despising the cant of revolt." To Shaw, the middle- 
class origin of the Socialist movement is in nothing so apparent 
as in the persistent delusions of Socialists as to an ideal pro- 
letariat, forced by the brutalities of the capitalist into an un- 
willing acquiescence in war, penal codes, and other cruelties of 
civilization. " They still see the social problem," Shaw wittily 
remarks, " not sanely and objectively, but imaginatively, as 
the plot of a melodrama, with its villain and its heroine, its 
innocent beginning, troubled middle, and happy ending. They 
are still the children and the romancers of politics." * 

Shaw finds a sort of sly gratification in the reflection that the 
world is becoming so familiar with the Socialist, that it no 
longer fears, but only laughs at him. " I, the Socialist, am 

* Socialism at the International Congress, in Cosmopolis, September, 1896. 

190 



SHAVIAN SOCIALISM 

mo longer a Red Spectre. I am only a ridiculous fellow. Good : 
I embrace the change. It puts the world with me. ... All 
human progress involves, as its first condition, the willingness 
of the pioneer to make a fool of himself. The sensible man is 
the man who adapts himself to existing conditions. The fool is 
the man who persists in trying to adapt the conditions to him- 
self. Both extremes have their disadvantages. I cling to mj 
waning folly as a corrective to my waxing good sense as anx- 
iously as I once nursed my good sense to defend myself against 
my folly." Shaw is the very man of whom his own Don Juan 
said : " He can only be enslaved whilst he is spiritually weak 
enough to listen to reason." 



191 



I 



THE ART CRITIC 

"Produce me your best critic, and I will criticize his head off." — On 
Diabolonian Ethics. In Three Plays for Puritans. Preface, p. xxi. 



CHAPTER VII 

SHAW'S career as a critic dates from the period of his first 
acquaintance with Mr. William Archer, in 1885. After 
living for nine years, according to his own story, on the six 
pounds of which he is so fond of speaking, Shaw was at last 
reduced to quite straitened financial circumstances. He eagerly 
seized the opportunity to become a critic afforded him by Mr. 
Archer's ingenious kindness. " Our friend, William Archer," 
Shaw relates, " troubled by this state of things, to which the 
condition of my wardrobe bore convincing testimony, rescued me 
by a stratagem. Being already famous as the ' W. A.' of the 
World's drama, he boldly offered to criticize pictures as well. 
Edmund Yates was only too glad to get so excellent a critic. 
Archer got me to do the work, resigned the post as soon as I had 
got firm hold of it, and left me in possession." The years from 
1885 to 1889, during which he lived at 29, Fitzroy Square, Shaw 
devoted in part to criticism of art, contemporary English art in 
particular; during this period, he once told me, he criticized 
every picture show in London. He also published many un- 
signed literary reviews and sallies in the Pall Mall Gazette; 
whilst a number of his criticisms of pictures appeared in un- 
signed paragraphs, both in the World, 1885 to 1888, and in 
Truth, 1889. A few of his critiques also appeared in a maga- 
zine called Our Corner. 

I recently read Shaw's critical reviews of this period, espe- 
cially the complete file of his articles in the Pall Mall Gazette 
from May 16th, 1885, to August 31st, 1888, placed at my dis- 
posal by Mr. Shaw. The articles are pertinent and shrewd, but 
only comparatively few are marked by that peculiar and fan- 
tastic humour which has come to be known as Shavian. They 
embrace every sort of subject from Ouida's novels to the Life 
of Madame BlavatsTey, from Grant Allen to W. Stanley Jevons, 
from Cairo to the Surrey Hills — art, fiction, music, drama, 

195 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

science, theology. Occasionally Shaw took delight in adding 
to the gaiety and curiosity of his readers by putting forth 
some Shavian frivolity, under an assumed name. Such, for 
example, was his letter to the Pall Mall Gazette on The Taming 
of the Shrew, dated June 8th, 1888, the earliest instance I have 
of his so-called " Shakspearean Bull-baiting " — a letter copied 
innumerable times and in almost every paper in the United 
Kingdom. It ran as follows: 

" To the Editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. 

" Snt, — They say that the American woman is the most 
advanced woman to be found at present on this planet. I 
am an Englishwoman, just come up, frivolously enough, 
from Devon to enjoy a few weeks of the season in London, 
and at the very first theatre I visit I find an American 
woman playing Katharine in The Taming of the Shrew — 
a piece which is one vile insult to womanhood and man- 
hood from the first word to the last. I think no woman 
should enter a theatre where that play is performed; and 
I should not have stayed to witness it myself, but that, 
having been told that the Daly Company has restored 
Shakspeare's version to the stage, I desired to see with 
my own eyes whether any civilized audience would stand 
its brutality. Of course, it was not Shakspeare: it was 
only Garrick adulterated by Shakspeare. Instead of 
Shakspeare's coarse, thick-skinned money hunter, who sets 
to work to tame his wife exactly as brutal people tame 
animals or children — that is, by breaking their spirit by 
domineering cruelty — we had Garrick's fop who tries to 
' shut up ' his wife by behaving worse than she — a plan 
which is often tried by foolish and ill-mannered young 
husbands in real life, and one which invariably fails igno- 
miniously, as it deserves to. The gentleman who plays 
Petruchio at Daly's — I neither know nor desire to know 
his name — does what he can to persuade the audience that 
he is not in earnest, and that the whole play is a farce, 
just as Garrick before him found it necessary to do ; but 
in spite of his fine clothes, even at the wedding, and his 

196 




Alvi?i Langdon Coburn.'] 



SHAW'S SECOND HOME IN LONDON. 
Fitzroy Square (No. 29). 



{Facing p. 194 



THE ART CRITIC 

winks and smirks when Katharine is not looking, he can- 
not make the spectacle of a man cracking a heavy whip 
at a starving woman otherwise than disgusting and un- 
manly. In an age when a woman was a mere chattel, 
Katharine's degrading speech about 

"*Thy husband is thy lord, thy life, thy keeper, 

Thy head, thy sovereign: one that cares for thee (with a whip), 
And for thy maintainance ; commits his body 
To painful labour, both by sea and land,' etc. 

might have passed with an audience of bullies. But 
imagine a parcel of gentlemen in the stalls at the Gaiety 
Theatre, half of them perhaps living idly on their wives' 
incomes, grinning complacently through it as if it were 
true or even honourably romantic. I am sorry that I 
did not come to town earlier that I might have made a 
more timely protest. In the future I hope all men and 
women who respect one another will boycott The Taming 
of the Shrew until it is driven off the boards. 

" Yours truly, 

" HoRATIA RlBBONSON. 

" St. James's Hotel, and Fairheugh Rectory, North 
Devon, June 7th." 

In his capacity as art critic, when time was priceless and 
hundreds of pictures had to be examined critically, Shaw found 
his knowledge of phonography invaluable. I recently looked 
over a collection of his art catalogues during a single year, 
and his phonographic notes give a miniature forecast of the 
art criticism he is presently to write. Beside the titles of 
certain pictures often appears a single adjective: "gaudy," 
"brilliant," "stupid," and the like; beside others, " Wilkie," 
" Reynolds," and the names of other artists, indicating his 
detection of resemblance to or imitation of the works of the 
masters. Beside the mention of a " Lighthouse " picture is 
pencilled the explanatory note, a mixture of praise and blame : 
" Too green. Has a lamp lighted. Good subject." One 
recognizes the Shavian timbre in such laconic notes as " Fluffy 
style"; "What does he mean?" "Very dreadful!" and 

197 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

" Same old game." And we feel sure that Shaw will " gore 
and trample " the unfortunate wretches who called forth the 
damning comments — " wheels awful," " idiotic," and " green 
blush and pasty face." 

During these years, however, from 1885 to 1888 in especial, 
Socialism was the living centre of all Shaw's interests. His 
time was principally devoted to the most active form of So- 
cialist propagandism. The literary articles of this period do 
not possess the piquant interest of the " C. di B." or the 
" G. B. S." criticisms, which are quite remarkable for epigram, 
satire, and paradox. Most of them are almost unintelligible 
now that they can no longer be read with the context of the 
events of the week in which they appeared. Shaw has always 
been a leader of forlorn hopes ; at this time, willy-nilly, he was 
on the side of the majority. I remember one day quoting 
Clarence Rook's remark to the effect that Shaw is like the kite, 
and can rise only when the popularis aura is against him. 
" No, that is a radical mistake," Mr. Shaw said forcibly. " I 
have never worked with the sense that everybody is against 
me. On the contrary, my inspiration springs from a sense of 
sympathy with my views." Still, one might say that it has 
always been as a defiant and vexatious personality that Shaw 
has best succeeded in arousing and challenging clamorous pro- 
test. Hermann Bahr insists that Bernard Shaw possesses in 
rich measure the remarkable and exceptional talent of the 
great artist-critic: the ability to arouse the whole state, the 
whole nation, against him. Not only was that opposition, 
which is the very breath of his nostrils, non-existent : there was 
no great battle on in the world of art in London comparable 
to those that were yet to be waged. It is true that the Im- 
pressionist movement was struggling for life in London, and 
while Shaw defended it vigorously, neither its day nor his day 
was yet come. As an almost totally unknown, comparatively 
unskilled critic of literature and art, he could scarcely be 
expected to create the unparalleled sensations which he subse- 
quently achieved as a Shakespearean image-breaker, a cham- 
pion of Wagner and Ibsen, and the most radical exponent of 
the newest forms of the New Drama. 

198 



THE ART CRITIC 

And yet it was during these very years that he developed 
those remarkable qualities which have won him the title of 
the most brilliant of contemporary British journalistic critics. 
On all sides the younger generation, which included Mr. Shaw 
as one of its most daring and iconoclastic members, rose up in 
revolt against academicism in style. The New Journalism came 
into being. " Lawless young men," says Shaw, " began to 
write and print the living English language of their own day 
instead of the prose style of one of Macaulay's characters 
named Addison. They split their infinitives and wrote such 
phrases as ' a man nobody ever heard of,' instead of, ' a man 
of whom nobody had ever heard ' ; or, more classical still, ' a 
writer hitherto unknown.' Musical critics, instead of reading 
books about their business and elegantly regurgitating their 
erudition, began to listen to music and to distinguish between 
sounds ; critics of painting began to look at pictures ; critics 
of the drama began to look at something besides the stage ; and 
descriptive writers actually broke into the House of Commons, 
elbowing the reporters into the background, and writing about 
political leaders as if they were mere play-actors. The inter- 
view, the illustration, and the cross-heading hitherto looked on 
as American vulgarities impossible to English literary gentle- 
men, invaded all our papers; and, finally, as the climax and 
masterpiece of literary Jacobinism, the Saturday Review ap- 
peared with a signed article in it. Then Mr. Traill and all 
his generation covered their faces with their togas and died at 
the base of Addison's statue, which all the while ran ink." 
" Don't misunderstand my position," Mr. Shaw once remarked 
to me. " It is true that I was opposed to academicism in style, 
not to style itself. I believe in style. I thought that the 
academicism we had was not good academicism. I was pedantic 
enough myself when I first began to write — when I wrote my 
first novel. Afterwards I came to the conclusion that a phrase 
meant much only after it had been washed into shape in the 
mouths of dozens of generations. The fact of the matter is 
that I am extremely sensitive to the form of art." Shaw 
simply repudiated the classical tradition of writing like " a 
scholar and a gentleman." As far as his scholarship was con- 

199 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

cerned, he took the greatest pains to dissemble the little he 
possessed. Moreover, he doubted if it had ever been worth 
while being a " gentleman," and used every means in his power 
to discredit this antiquated survival of the age of sentimen- 
talism. He always aimed at accuracy, but scoffed consumedly 
at the notion of achieving " justice " in criticism. " I am not 
God Almighty," he said in effect, " and nobody but a fool could 
expect justice from me, or any other superhuman attribute." 
He wrote boldly according to his bent; he said only what he 
wanted to say, and not what he thought he ought to say, or 
what was right, or what was just. To Shaw, this affected, 
manufactured, artificial conscience of morality and justice was 
of no use in the writing of genuine criticism, or in the making 
of true works of art. For that, he felt that one must have 
the real conscience that gives a man courage to fulfil his will 
by saying what he likes. An epigram I once heard him make: 
" Accuracy only means discovering the relation of your will 
to facts instead of cooking the facts to save trouble " — is a 
note of his entire criticism. Shaw sought simply to write as 
accurately, as frankly, as vividly, and as lightly as possible. 
He hesitated neither at violating taste, nor at being vexatious, 
even positively disagreeable. " If I meet an American tourist 
who is greatly impressed with the works of Raphael, Kaulbach, 
Delaroche and Barry," he once said, " and I, with Titian and 
Velasquez in my mind, tell him that not one of his four heroes 
was a real painter, I am no doubt putting my case absurdly; 
but I am not talking nonsense, for all that: indeed, to the 
adept seer of pictures I am only formulating a commonplace 
in an irritatingly ill-considered way. But in this world if you 
do not say a thing in an irritating way, you may just as well 
not say it at all, since nobody will trouble themselves about 
anything that does not trouble them." 

Mr. H. M. Hyndman, the great English Socialist, once told 
me that he was really the first person in England to discover 
Shaw. " In 1883," he explained, " I wrote a letter of recom- 
mendation for Shaw to Frederick Greenwood, at that time 
editor of the Pall Mall Gazette. The letter led to nothing, it 
is true; but that is not material. The point is, that in that 

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THE ART CRITIC 

letter I compared Shaw to Heine — a comparison for which I 
have been unmercifully chaffed many times since. Of course, 
Shaw does not possess Heine's wonderful gift of lyrism; but 
as iconoclastic critics, they have many qualities in common. 
In his power to turn up for our inspection the seamy side of 
the robe of modern life, and make us recoil at the sight, Ber- 
nard Shaw is without a peer. 

" I have always been inclined to class Bernard Shaw and my 
dear friend George Meredith together. In enigmatic character 
and faculty of mystification as to their real opinion, they are 
remarkably alike." 

Of Shaw, in all his criticism, might be quoted his own words 
descriptive of George Henry Lewes as a critic of the drama: 
" He expressed his most laboured criticisms with a levity which 
gave them the air of being the unpremeditated whimsicalities 
of a man who had perversely taken to writing about the theatre 
for the sake of the jest latent in his own outrageous unfitness 
for it.'" 

If the world is convinced that Shaw is only a gay deceiver, he 
himself has felt from the very beginning that the role he plays 
is that of the candid friend of society. " Waggery as a 
medium is invaluable," he once explained. " My case is really 
the case of Rabelais over again. When I first began to pro- 
mulgate my opinions, I found that they appeared extravagant, 
and even insane. In order to get a hearing, it was necessary 
for me to attain the footing of a privileged lunatic, with the 
licence of a jester. Fortunately the matter was very easy. I 
found that I had only to say with perfect simplicity what I 
seriously meant just as it struck me, to make everybody laugh. 
My method, you will have noticed, is to take the utmost trouble 
to find the right thing to say, and then say it with the utmost 
levity. And all the time the real joke is that I am in earnest." 
It is Shaw's supreme distinction that he refuses to view life 
through the confining, beclouding medium of convention. His 
primal claim to serious attention is based upon the assertion 
of his freedom from illusion. If he appears grotesque and 
eccentric, it is not so much because he expresses himself gro- 
tesquely and eccentrically: it is primarily because he scruti- 

201 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

nizes life with a more aquiline eyesight than that of the illuded 
majority. His levity has saved him from martyrdom; for, 
although it is a very difficult thing to speak disagreeable truths, 
it is a still more difficult thing to listen to them. Recall the 
treatment the British public gave to George Moore for his 
advocacy of realism, to Vizetelly for his championing of Zola, 
even to Shaw himself for his defence of Ibsen ! Shaw has based 
all his brilliancy and solidity, Mr. Chesterton acutely observes, 
upon the hackneyed, but yet forgotten, fact that truth is 
stranger than fiction. And Shaw himself has cleverly put the 
case in his own paradoxical way. " There is an indescribable 
levity — not triviality mind, but levity — something spritelike 
about the final truth of a matter; and this exquisite levity 
communicates itself to the style of a writer who will face the 
labour of digging down to it. It is the half-truth which is 
congruous, heavy, serious, and suggestive of a middle-aged or 
elderly philosopher. The whole truth is often the first thing 
that comes into the head of a fool or a child; and when a wise 
man forces his way to it through the many strata of his 
sophistications, its wanton, perverse air reassures him instead 
of frightening him." * 

This spritelike quality, this indescribable levity inherent in 
the final truth of a matter, has communicated itself to Shaw's 
style in the most intimate way. With the not unnatural result 
that it is difficult for the average man to believe that opinions 
advanced with such light-hearted levity carry any of the weight 
of final truth. It is for this reason that all of Shaw's attempts 
to write genuine autobiography have been greeted with the 
most amiable scepticism. Shaw himself is able to speak with 
more confidence on the folly of writing scientific natural his- 
tory, because he has 1 tried the experiment, within certain timid 
limits, of being candidly autobiographical. 

" I have produced no permanent impression," he de- 
clares, " because nobody has ever believed me. I once told 

* Who I Am, and What I Think. Part II., in the Candid Friend, May 
18th, 1901. 

202 



THE ART CRITIC 

a brilliant London journalist * some facts about my fam- 
ily, running to forty-first cousins and to innumerable 
seconds and thirds. Like most large families, it did not 
consist exclusively of teetotallers, nor did all its members 
remain until death up to the very moderate legal standard 
of sanity. One of them discovered an absolutely original 
method of committing suicide. It was simple to the verge 
of triteness, yet no human being had ever thought of it 
before. It was also amusing. But in the act of carrying 
it out, my relative jammed the mechanism of his heart — 
possibly in the paroxysm of laughter which the mere nar- 
ration of his suicidal method has never since failed to 
provoke — and if I may be allowed to state the result in 
my Irish way, he died a second before he succeeded in 
killing himself. The coroner's jury found that he died 
' from natural causes ' ; and the secret of the suicide was 
kept not only from the public, but from most of the 
family. 

" I revealed the secret in private conversation to the 
brilliant journalist aforesaid. He shrieked with laughter 
and printed the whole story in his next causerie. It never 
for a moment occurred to him that it was true. To this 
day he regards me as the most reckless liar in London." 

Had Shaw ever attempted to write the Rougon-Macquart 
history of his family in twenty volumes, along the candid lines 
of the above narrative, it is not improbable that he would there- 
after have been permanently and forcibly deprived of his 
privileges as a lunatic. " I have not yet ascertained the truth 
about myself," he wrote some years ago. " For instance, am I 
mad or sane? I really do not know. Doubtless, I am clever 
in certain directions ; my talent has enabled me to cut a figure 
in my profession in London. But a man may, like Don 
Quixote, be clever enough to cut a figure and yet be stark mad. 
A critic recently described me, with deadly acuteness, as hav- 
ing ' a kindly dislike of my fellow-creatures.' Perhaps dread 

*Mr. A. B. Walkley, Mr. Shaw lately told me. 

203 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

would have been nearer the mark than dislike; for man is the 
only animal of which I am thoroughly and cravenly afraid. I 
have never thought much of the courage of a lion tamer. In- 
side the cage he is at least safe from other men. There is not 
much harm in a lion. He has no ideals, no religion, no politics, 
no chivalry, no gentility; in short, no reason for destroying 
anything that he does not want to eat. In the late war, the 
Americans burnt the Spanish fleet, and finally had to drag men 
out of hulls that had become furnaces. The effect of this on 
one of the American commanders was to make him assemble 
his men and tell them that he believed in God Almighty. No 
lion would have done that. On reading it and observing that 
the newspapers, representing normal public opinion, seemed 
to consider it a very creditable, natural and impressively pious 
incident, I came to the conclusion that I must be mad. At all 
events, if I am sane, the rest of the world ought not to be at 
large. We cannot both see things as they really are." 

It was at a somewhat later time that the critics came to treat 
Shaw as a reckless liar and a privileged lunatic. At this period, 
he impressed the self-conscious literary clique as a witty, but 
frivolous, ignoramus, totally incompetent to discuss the high 
subjects of which he professed such penetrating comprehension. 
I once had an interesting discussion with Mr. Shaw about the 
subject of his flippancy. " Do you accept as just the criticism, 
made in some quarters," I asked Mr. Shaw, " that you and 
Whistler were very much alike in your attitude towards the 
general public ? " 

" Not at all, that is a crude error," replied Mr. Shaw ear- 
nestly. " Whistler came to grief because he gave himself up to 
clever smartness, which is abhorrent to the average English- 
man. As for me, I have never for a moment lost sight of my 
serious relation to a serious public. You see, I had an advan- 
tage over Whistler in any case, for at least three times every 
week I could escape from artistic and literary stuff, and talk 
seriously on serious subjects to serious people. For this rea- 
son — because I persisted in Socialist propagandism — I never 
once lost touch with the real world." 

Shaw's critiques, sallies, and reviews were the combination of 

204 









THE ART CRITIC 

a laborious criticism with a recklessly flippant manner. Into 
literature he carried the methods he adopted on the platform, 
where he tossed off the most diligently acquired, studiously 
pondered information with all the insouciance of omniscience. 
As a critic, Shaw has ever laboured for the scanty wages of 
the " intolerable fatigue of thought." In characteristic style, 
he has gone so far as to declare that good journalism is much 
rarer and more important than good literature; he has no 
sympathy with Disraeli's view of a critic as an author who has 
failed. " I know as one who has practised both crafts," wrote 
Shaw in 1892, " that authorship is child's play compared to 
criticism; and I have, you may depend upon it, my full share 
of the professional instinct which regards the romancer as a 
mere adventurer in literature and the critic as a highly skilled 
workman. Ask any novelist or dramatist whether he can write 
a better novel or play than I ; and he will blithely say ' Yes.' 
Ask him to take my place as critic -for one week; and he will 
blench from the test. The truth is that the critic stands be- 
tween popular authorship, for which he is not silly enough, 
and great authorship, for which he is not genius enough." * 

While Mr. Shaw was laboriously striving to impart lightness 
and insouciance to his literary style, and to acquire careless 
sang-froid as a platform speaker, he was likewise making the 
acquaintance of certain distinguished men of his day. His 
relation and association with William Morris 5 for example, 
exercised no noteworthy influence upon his art; but it cer- 
tainly did no less than accentuate certain distinct traits of his 
character. Unmistakably, in this way, does this association 
serve to give us a clearer insight into the rationale of Shaw's — 
popularly-called — idiosyncrasies. On the other hand, it fur- 
nishes us a new aspect of Morris from the Shavian point of 
view. 

Readers of the authorized edition of Cashel Byron's Profes- 
sion will recall that William Morris, who, like Shaw, had thrown 
himself into the Socialist revival of the early eighties, first 

* The Author to the Dramatic Critics, Appendix I. to the first edition of 
Widowers' Houses. London, Henry and Co., Bouverie Street, E.C., 1893. 

205 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

became curious about Shaw through reading the monthly in- 
stalments of An Unsocial Socialist as they appeared in the 
Socialist magazine To-Day. Shaw had heard of Morris, to 
be sure; and had even, years before, once seen him — of all 
places in the world! — in the Dore Gallery. Yet his notions 
about Morris were, in reality, of the vaguest. He knew noth- 
ing beyond the meagre facts that he was a poet, that he be- 
longed to the Rossetti circle, and that he was associated with 
Burne-Jones and with what was then called iEstheticism. He 
had never read a line of Morris's, and, in fact, had taken no 
definite measure of his calibre. This was the situation when 
Shaw found himself one evening in Gatti's big restaurant in 
the Strand at the table with Morris and H. M. Hyndman. 
Morris belonged to Mr. Hyndman's society, the Democratic 
Federation, now the Social-Democratic Federation, while Mr. 
Hyndman himself was the head centre of London Socialism. 
With naive simplicity, Morris humbly announced that he was 
prepared to do whatever he was told and go wherever he was 
led: that was all he could say. In a letter to me describing 
the interview, written many years afterwards, Mr. Shaw said 
that, while it was only snap- judgment — a personal impression 
across the table — he could not help being " privately tickled 
by this announcement from an obviously ungovernable man who 
was too big to be led by any of us." 

In ignorance concerning Morris, Shaw was not alone: the 
other Socialists were in precisely the same predicament. Mor- 
ris himself said afterwards that it was among his Socialist 
confreres that he first realized he was an elderly duffer. His 
old Rossettian associates used to call him Topsy; but, as 
readers of Lady Burne-Jones's Memorials will recall, Burne- 
Jones used to be angry when she applied this embarrassing 
nickname to Morris before strangers. If Morris was affec- 
tionately regarded as a young man by his associates of the 
" P. R. B.," to his Socialist allies he looked older than he was — 
sixty at fifty, though a magnificent sixty — a sort of " sixty- 
years-young " patriarch. Morris and Shaw, after they set- 
tled down to the routine of Socialist agitation, were at the 
opposite poles of the movement. Shaw headed the Fabian 

206 



THE ART CRITIC 

Society, while Morris, after his secession from the S. D. F., 
organized the Socialist League, which shortly went to pieces — 
because, as Shaw says, there was only one William Morris ; he 
was afterwards the leading spirit in the Hammersmith So- 
cialist Society. Despite this fundamental difference in view- 
point — for Morris's fundamental conceptions were " Equality, 
Communism, and the rediscovery under Communism of Art as 
* work-pleasure,' " whereas Shaw, as a Fabian, aimed simply 
at the reduction of Socialism to a constitutional political pol- 
icy — there was never any personal friction between the two. 
Indeed, they did a great deal of speaking together in the early 
days, most of it at the street corner, and often thought them- 
selves lucky if they had an audience of twenty. In after years, 
we find Morris with the broadest of views endeavouring to set- 
tle the differences which arose between the various Socialist 
sects. By 1893, when he gave his well-known address entitled 
Communism before the Hammersmith Socialist Society, Morris 
had acquired an intimate knowledge of the attempt to organize 
Socialism in England which began in the early eighties. " He 
had himself undertaken and conducted," writes Shaw, " that 
part of the experiment which nobody else would face: namely, 
the discovery and combination, without distinction of class, of 
all those who were capable of understanding Equality and Com- 
munism as he understood it, and their organization as an ef- 
fective force for the overthrow of the existing order of prop- 
erty and privilege. In doing so he had been brought into 
contact, and often into conflict, with every other section of the 
movement. He knew all his men and knew all their methods. 
He knew that the agitation was exhausted, and that the time 
had come to deal with the new policy which the agitation had 
shaken into existence. Accordingly, we find him in this (the 
above-mentioned) paper, doing what he could to economize the 
strength of the movement by making peace between its jarring 
sections, and recalling them from their disputes over tactics and 
programs to the essentials of their cause." * 

*Note of the Editor, G. B. Shaw, of Fabian Tract No. 113: Communism 
—a lecture by William Morris, published by the Fabian Society. 

207 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

None of Morris' Socialist associates were in the least degree 
hero-worshippers, at least where he was concerned: they never 
bothered at all about his eminence. " I was not myself con- 
scious of the impression he had made on me," Mr. Shaw once 
remarked to me, in explaining his feeling for Morris, " until 
one evening, at a debating society organized by Stopford 
Brooke, when Morris, in a speech on Socialism in the course of 
a debate, astonished me by saying that he left the economics to 
me — ' in that respect I regard Shaw as my master.' The 
phrase meant only that he left that side of the case to me, 
as he always did when we campaigned together, but though I 
knew this, still it gave me a shock which made me aware that 
I had unconsciously rated him so highly that his compliment 
gave me a sort of revulsion." It was genuine modesty which 
once prompted Shaw to say that he never liked to call himself 
Morris's friend, because he was too much his junior and too 
little necessary or serviceable to him in his private affairs. And 
yet he enjoyed an unstinted and unreserved intercourse with 
Morris: one of Shaw's best-known Fabian tracts, The Transi- 
tion to Social Democracy, for example, was written at Morris's 
mediaeval manor-house, Lechlade, on the Thames, and was 
heartily approved on its historical side by that erudite student 
of the Middle Ages. Shaw once said that no man was more 
liberal in his attempts to improve Morris's mind than he was; 
" but I always found that, in so far as I was not making a 
most horrible idiot of myself out of misknowledge (I could 
forgive myself for pure ignorance), he could afford to listen 
to me with the patience of a man who had taught my teachers. 
There were people whom we tried to run him down with — Ten- 
nysons, Swinburnes, and so on ; but their opinions about things 
did not make any difference, Morris's did." * 

Morris greatly enjoyed a number of Shaw's essays, for the 
prime reason that in those essays Shaw said certain things 
which Morris wanted to have said. After Shaw's celebrated 
reply to Max Nordau, Morris suddenly began to talk to Shaw 

* Obituary essay: Morris as Actor and Dramatist, in the Saturday 
Review, October 10th, 1896. Reproduced in Dramatic Opinions and Es- 
says, Vol. II. 

208 



THE ART CRITIC 

about Whistler and the Impressionists in a way which showed 
that he knew all about them and what they were driving at, 
though before that Shaw had given Morris up as — on that sub- 
ject — an intolerant and ignorant veteran of the pre-Raphaelite 
movement. That this was highly characteristic of Morris from 
Shaw's standpoint is evidenced by some paragraphs in Shaw's 
obituary notice of Morris in the Saturday Review. " When an 
enthusiast for some fashionable movement or reaction in art 
would force it into the conversation, he (Morris) would often 
behave so as to convey an impression of invincible prejudice 
and intolerant ignorance, and so get rid of it. But later on, 
he would let slip something that showed, in a flash, that he had 
taken in the whole movement at its very 'first demonstration, 
and had neither prejudices nor illusions about it. When you 
knew the subject yourself, and could see beyond it and around 
it, putting it in its proper place and accepting its limits, he 
could talk fast enough about it; but it did not amuse him to 
allow novices to break a lance with him 5 because he had no 
special facility for brilliant critical demonstration, and re- 
quired too much patience for his work to waste any of it on 
idle discussions. Consequently there was a certain intellectual 
roguery about him of which his intimate friends were very well 
aware; so that if a subject were thrust on him, the aggressor 
was sure to be ridiculously taken in if he did not calculate 
on Morris's knowing much more about it than he pretended." 
He thus often presented himself as imperious and prejudiced, 
because up to a certain point he would neither agree nor discuss, 
simply giving you up as walking in darkness. But the moment 
you had worked your way through the subject and come out on 
the other side, as Shaw expressed it, Morris would suddenly be- 
gin to talk like an expert and show all sorts of knowledge — 
scientific, political, commercial, intellectual-as-opposed-to- 
artistic, and so on — that you never suspected him of. " He 
was fond of quoting Robert Owen's rule : ' Don't argue : re- 
peat your assertion,' " Mr. Shaw recently told me ; " and mere 
debating, which he knew to be an intellectual game and not 
an essential part of the Will-to-Socialism (so to speak), did 
not interest him enough to make him good at it. But he 

209 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW >. 

highly enjoyed hearing anyone else do it cleverly on his side, 
and was furious when it was done on the other side. In point 
of command of modern critical language, he was by no means 
a ready man; and as I was in great practice just then, he 
would take a prompt from me (if it was the right one) with as 
much relief and simplicity as if I had found his spectacles for 
him." 

Shaw once said that, as far as he was aware, he shared with 
Mr. Henry Arthur Jones the distinction of being the only 
modern dramatist, except the author of Charley's Aunt, which 
bored Morris, whose plays were witnessed by Morris. Shaw did 
not pretend to claim Morris's visits as a spontaneous act of 
homage to modern acting and the modern drama, but only as 
a tribute of personal friendship ; for Morris was a " twelfth- 
twentieth-century artist," exclusively preoccupied with a vision 
of beauty unrealized upon the modern stage. In a passage 
in a letter to me, Mr. Shaw has tersely etched the firm figure 
of the artist and the man, who could not be induced " to accept 
ugliness as art, no matter how brilliant, how fashionable, how 
sentimental, or intellectually interesting you might make it." 

" Morris's artistic integrity was, humanly speaking, 
perfect. You could not turn him aside from the question 
of the beauty and the decency of a thing by bringing up 
its interest, scientific, casuistic, novel, curious, historical, 
or what not. That was most extraordinary in so clever 
a man; for he was capable of all the interests. Com- 
pared to him Ruskin was not an artist at all : he was only 
a man whose interest in Nature led him to study Turner, 
and whose insight into religion gave him a clue to the art 
of the really religious painters. He would not give two- 
pence for a rarity or a curiosity or a relic; but when he 
saw a sanely beautiful thing, and it was for sale, he went 
into the shop; seized it, held it tight under his arm (it 
was generally a mediaeval book) ; and, after the feeblest 
and most transparent show of bargaining, bought it for 
whatever was asked. Once, when he was rebuked for pay- 
ing eight hundred pounds for something that a dealer 

210 




Photo by Elliott & Fry'] 



htkifrMwi 



[Baker Street, London. 



[Facing v. 209 



THE ART CRITIC 

would have got for four hundred and fifty pounds, I said, 
' If you want a thing, you always get the worst of the 
bargain.' Morris was delighted with my wisdom, and 
probably spent many unnecessary pounds on the strength 
of that poor excuse. 

" This artistic integrity of his was what made him un- 
intelligible to the Philistine public. When the Americans 
set to work to imitate his printing, they showed that they 
regarded him as a fashionably quaint and foolish person; 
and the Roycroft Shop and all the rest of the culture- 
curiosity shops of the States poured forth abominations 
which missed every one of his lessons and exaggerated 
every one of the practices he tried to cure printers of. 
In the same way his houses at Hammersmith and Kelm- 
scott were, though quite homely, as beautiful in their do- 
mestic way as St. Sophia's in Stamboul ; but other people's 
6 Morris houses ' always went wrong, even when he started 
them right." 

One day Mr. Shaw and I were discussing Morris and the 
influence he exerted upon Shaw. " What Morris taught me," 
confessed Mr. Shaw, " was in the main technical — printing, for 
example.* And I soon came to realize that his most charac- 
teristic trait was integrity in the artistic sense. By watching 
Morris, I first learned that Ruskin wasn't strong as a critic of 
works of art. In a sense, Ruskin was a naturalist because he 
understood Turner. And the key to his comprehension of the 
pre-Raphaelites was his religious sense. And yet he could not 
discover so glaring an error as Bernardino Luini's employment 
of the same model for the Virgin and the Magdalen. The 
trouble with Ruskin was that he invariably fell into egregious 
blunders when he didn't have his religious clue." 

" I learned a great deal from Morris," he added, " be- 
cause Morris and I worked together in Socialism — and, as 
a critic, I was intensely interested in the pre-Raphaelite 
movement." 

* In this connection, compare The Author's View. A Criticism of Modern 
Book Printing. By Bernard Shaw. In the Caxton Magazine, January, 
1902. 

211 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

It was always a source of regret to Shaw that he never met 
Burne-Jones, Morris's greatest friend. When Morris died, 
Shaw wrote obituary articles in the Daily Chronicle and in the 
Saturday Review; and when McKaiPs Life of Morris appeared, 
he reviewed it in the Daily Chronicle. Burne-Jones was pleased 
by the Saturday Review article, and wanted to meet Shaw. 
They made appointment after appointment; but something al- 
ways occurred — an illness, a journey, or the like — to defeat 
them. At last they resolved that the meeting must come off; 
and a firm arrangement was made — for a Sunday lunch, it 
seems — to be kept at all hazards. But Destiny had a card up 
its sleeve that they did not reckon with. Burne-Jones died the 
day before; so Shaw never met him as an acquaintance, and 
only saw him twice, once at an exhibition where he heard him 
say that a picture attibuted to Morris had been partly painted 
by Madox Brown, and once at a theatre, where their seats 
happened to be next one another. 

When Shaw became a critic of music in 1888, he began to 
consider whether he was making enough money by the very 
hard work of plodding through all the picture exhibitions. At 
last he counted his gains, and found, to his amazement, that 
his remuneration for paragraphs at fivepence per line, worked 
out at — according to his recollection afterwards — less than 
forty pounds a year; whereas two hundred pounds would not 
have been at all excessive for the work. " Edmund Yates, when 
I resigned and told him why," Mr. Shaw once told me, " was 
as much staggered as I was myself, and proposed a much 
more lucrative arrangement by which I should divide the work 
with Lady Colin Campbell. But the division would not have 
been fair to her ; and Yates, recognizing this, did what I asked, 
which was, to hand the whole department over to Lady Colin, 
and confine my contributions to music alone." 

The period of Shaw's activities as an art critic is memorable 
less for the quality and value of his criticism than for the 
revelation of the essential moral integrity of the man so often 
denounced as the cranky immoralist of this, our time. This, 
as we shall see, appears most clearly in his relations with W. 
E. Henley, the story of which, I believe, has never been told 

212 






THE ART CRITIC 

in print; yet other crucial instances, equally revelative, are 
worthy of record. Shaw's experience amply justifies his state- 
ment that the public has hardly any suspicion of the rarity of 
the able editor who is loyal to his profession and to his staff; 
and that without such an editor even moderately honest criti- 
cism is impossible. Take, for example, the case of Shaw and 
a London paper. Shaw wrote about pictures for the best part 
of a season until a naive proposal was made to him that he 
should oblige certain artist-friends of the editorium by favour- 
able notices, and was assured that he might oblige any friends 
of his own in the same way. " This proposal was made in per- 
fect good faith and in all innocence," Shaw candidly avers, 
" it never having occurred to those responsible that art criti- 
cism was a serious pursuit or that any question of morals or 
conduct could possibly arise over it. Of course I resigned with 
some vigour, though without any ill humour; but some I know 
were quite sincerely, pathetically hurt by my eccentric, un- 
friendly and disobliging conduct." During his career as a 
critic Shaw was repeatedly urged by colleagues to call atten- 
tion to some abuse which they themselves were not sufficiently 
strongly situated to mention. He had to resign very desirable 
positions on the critical staff of London papers ; in the case 
above mentioned, because he considered it derogatory to write 
insincere puffs ; and in another case, " because my sense of 
style revolted against the interpolation in my articles of sen- 
tences written by others to express high opinions of artists, 
unknown to fame and to me." This second resignation fol- 
lowed the appearance of an Academy notice, written by Shaw 
in the capacity of art critic to another London paper. This 
article on an Academy exhibition appeared padded out to an 
extraordinary length by interpolations praising works which 
Shaw had never seen — " No. 2,744 is a sweet head of Mrs. 

by that talented young artist, Miss ," and so on. It 

is needless to add that Shaw resigned in a highly explosive 
manner. And so Shaw vanished from the picture galleries. His 
comment on the conduct of the management of these papers 
explains his own attitude, testifying conclusively to the rigour 
of the moral standard to which he always conformed. " They 

213 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

were no more guilty of corruption," Mr. Shaw expressed the 
case to me, " than a man with no notion of property can be 
guilty of theft; and to this day they probably have not the 
least idea why I threw up a reasonably well-paid job and 
assumed an attitude vaguely implying some sort of disap- 
proval of their right to do what they liked with their own 
paper." 

It was probably at the particular Press view just referred to, 
some time after 1889, that Henley's meeting with Shaw oc- 
curred. To go back a little, James Runciman, the uncle of 
J. F. Runciman, the musical critic, was a Cashel Byronite, and 
used to write Shaw letters containing occasional references to 
Henley, who also admired Cashel Byron's Profession. Between 
Runciman, who had known Henley and quarrelled with him, and 
Cashel Byron, Shaw got into correspondence with Henley. 
Among the various literary and artistic Dulcineas whose cham- 
pionship Henley mistook for criticism, was Mozart. Mr. Shaw 
thus explained the situation to me: 

" As I also knew Mozart's value, Henley induced me to write 
articles on music for his paper, the Scots Observer, afterwards 
the National Observer; and I did write some — not more than 
half a dozen- — perhaps not so many. Henley was an impossible 
editor. He had no idea of criticism except to glorify the mas- 
ters he liked, and pursue their rivals with quixotic jealousy. To 
appreciate Mozart without reviling Wagner was to Henley a 
blank injustice to Mozart. Now, he knew I was what he called 
a Wagnerite, and that I thought his objections to Wagner 
vieux jeu, stupid, ignorant and common. Therefore he amused 
himself by interpolating abuse of Wagner into my articles over 
my signature. Naturally he lost his contributor; and it was 
highly characteristic of him that he did not understand why 
he could not get any more articles from me. At the same time 
he made the National Observer an organ, politically and so- 
cially, of the commonest sort of plutocratic and would-be aris- 
tocratic Toryism, and clamoured in the usual forcible-feeble 
way for the strong hand to ' put down ' the distress which 
then — in the eighties — was threatening insurrection. For this 
sort of thing I had no mercy. I did not object to tall talk 

2U 






THE ART CRITIC 

about hanging myself and my friends who were trying to get 
something done for the condition of the people ; but what moved 
me to utter scorn was the association of the high republican 
atmosphere of Byron, Shelley and Keats, and the gallantry 
of Dumas pere — another idol of ours — with the most dastardly 
class selfishness and political vulgarity. When Henley at last 
pressed me very hard for another article, I wrote him in a per- 
fectly friendly but frankly contemptuous strain, chaffing him 
rather fiercely as the master of his fate, the captain of his soul, 
with his head bloody but unbowed, and his hat always off 
to the police and the upper classes." Shaw always believed 
that, even then, Henley was simply puzzled, and thought Shaw 
was only making a senseless literary display of smartness at 
his expense. 

Clearly Shaw was revolted by the atrocious vulgarity of Hen- 
ley's politics as contrasted with the pretentiousness of his lit- 
erary attitude. The defence of Henley after his death, to the 
effect that he knew nothing of politics, and that he placed him- 
self as to the politics of the paper in the hands of his friend 
Charles Whibley, disarmed Shaw, as I have good reason to 
know. For Shaw liked Whibley well enough, regarding him 
as a clever fellow in literary matters, but quite impossible polit- 
ically. Opinions similar to those quoted below may be found 
in the only criticism Shaw ever wrote of Henley — a review of 
his poems in the old Pall Mall Gazette under Mr. Stead's edi- 
torship. The following quotation from a hitherto unpublished 
letter to me vividly clarifies the whole matter by defining the 
grounds of Shaw's criticism of Henley: 

" Henley interested me as being what I call an Eliza- 
bethan, by which I mean a man with an extraordinary and 
imposing power of saying things, and with nothing what- 
ever to say. The real disappointment about his much dis- 
cussed article on Stevenson was not that he said spiteful 
things about his former friend, but that he said nothing 
at all about him that would not have been true of any man 
in all the millions then alive. The world very foolishly 
reproached him because he did not tell the usual epitaph 

215 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

monger's lies about ' Franklin, my loyal friend.' But the 
real tragedy about the business was that a man who had 
known Stevenson intimately, and who was either a pene- 
trating critic or nothing, had nothing better worth saying 
about him than that he was occasionally stingy about 
money and that when he passed a looking-glass he looked 
at it. Which Stevenson's parlour-maid could have told as 
well as Henley if she had been silly enough to suppose that 
the average man is a generous sailor in a melodrama, and 
totally incurious and unconscious as to his personal ap- 
pearance. But it was always thus with Henley. He 
could appreciate literature and enjoy criticism. He could 
describe anything that was forced on his observation and 
experience, from a tom-cat in an area to a hospital opera- 
tion. Give him the thing to be expressed, and he could 
find its expression wonderfully either in prose or verse. 
But beyond that he could not go: the things he said — or 
the things he wrote (I know nothing of his conversation) — 
are always conventionalities, all the worse because they 
are selected from the worst part of the great stock of 
conventionalities — the conventional unconventionalisms. 
He could discover and encourage talent, and was thus half 
a good editor, but he could not keep friends with it ; and 
so his papers finally fell through." 

As in the case of his obituary notices of Sir Augustus Harris 
and Sir Henry Irving, Shaw was accused of nothing short of 
brutality in his attitude towards Henley, the Cashel Byronite 
who had wished to see Shaw's novel dramatized. In the first 
place, Henley admired Shaw, and it seemed ungenerous for 
Shaw to repay him by a denial of the sort of talent he desired 
to excel in. And in the second place, it seemed to Shaw's 
detractors that it was doubly ungenerous of a man sound in 
wind and limb to disparage a man who was physically a wreck, 
fighting bravely against infirmity and pain. I was not sur- 
prised to find, on inquiring of Mr. Shaw his real feelings and 
attitude in the matter, that he regarded both these reasons as 
absurd, sentimental and pointless. 

216 



THE ART CRITIC 

" People have a strong feeling," Mr. Shaw explained, " that 
if a man has lost his hearing or sight bravely in a noble cause 
the world is thereby bound in decency to assume for ever after 
that he had the eye of an eagle and the ear of a hare." He 
continued, impressively : " I have never belittled a misfortune 
in that way. Long ago, when a blind poet died, and certain 
maudlin speeches of his were repeated in print as expressions 
of the pathos of his darkened existence, I said, also in print, 
that he always said these things when he was drunk, and that 
the fact that he was blind may have added to the pity of them, 
but did not give them any sort of validity. 

" In the same way when, in the European revolutionary 
movement, men came with horrible experiences of prison and 
Siberian wanderings on them, and women whose husbands had 
been hanged or committed suicide, I have always had to stand 
out against the notion that they were the better instead of the 
worse for their misfortunes, or that they derived any credit 
or authority whatever from them. Give them the indulgence 
due to enforced weakness or the help due to unavoidable dis- 
tress ; but don't make them heroes and leaders ex-officio because 
they have been unlucky enough to be lamed. 

" And so, I have often conveyed to sentimental people an 
impression of revolting callousness simply because I know that 
suffering is suffering, and not merely the acquisition of a ro- 
mantic halo. Henley's infirmities were to me trifles compared 
to those which I had encountered in other cases; and in any 
case, I was trained to look in the face the fact that infirmities 
disable people instead of reinforcing them. People who learn 
in suffering what they teach in song usually give very dan- 
gerous lessons ; and I admire Henley for having no doctrine of 
that sort. Besides, I have always abhorred the petty disloyal- 
ties which men call sparing one another's feelings. 

" To make an end of the matter," Mr. Shaw concluded, 
" Henley, though a barren critic and poet, had enough talent 
and character to command plenty of consideration. A man 
cannot be everything. I am as fond of music as Henley was 
of literature," he added, his grey-blue eyes twinkling brightly; 
" but I am the worst of players, and have a very poor voice." 

217 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

The opinion that Shaw's art during this period is less inter- 
esting than his life does not necessarily involve any reflection 
upon the value of his experience as an art critic in giving di- 
rection and tendency to the subsequent course of his develop- 
ment. Indeed Shaw has been mainly influenced by works of art 
in his artificial culture: he has always been more consciously 
susceptible to music and painting than to literature. It is no 
idle assertion — one that Shaw is fond of repeating — that Mo- 
zart and Michael Angelo count for a great deal in the making 
of his mind. And, however paradoxical it may sound, the 
English dramatists after Shakespeare are practically negligible 
as concerning their influence in the development of his peculiar 
and highly specialized dramatic genius. His close and familiar 
daily intercourse with the music masters of the past ; his instant 
recognition of Wagner's overwhelming greatness ; his rapturous 
delight in that king of music-dramatists, Mozart; his dogged 
attempts, alone and unaided, to master the difficulties of piano- 
forte playing, which eventuated in his becoming a congenial, 
sympathetic accompanist — all early marked him as a natural 
and undiscouragedly persistent lover of music. His individual 
studies of Italian art, in its history and its expression, while 
he was still in his teens, his frequent visits to the Dublin Gal- 
lery, the many hours passed in London at the priceless picture 
galleries in Trafalgar Square and Hampton Court, testify with 
equal force to his spontaneous preoccupation with the best that 
has been thought and done in the world of art. It would 
carry one too far afield to pursue the inquiry as to what in- 
fluence Michael Angelo might possibly have exerted upon the 
dramas of Bernard Shaw. But there can be little doubt that 
what Shaw found to wonder at and glorify in Michael Angelo 
was his passion for anatomy, his devotion to the studiously 
realistic, and his unlimited mastery of form acquired through 
" profound and patient interrogation of reality." Shaw, the 
close, searching student of life, found untold inspiration in the 
discovery of the genuinely naturalistic spirit in which Michael 
Angelo worked! Words he once used in speaking to me of the 
influence of Michael Angelo upon his art are very illuminative. 
" I never shall forget climbing an enormously high, rickety 

218 






THE ART CRITIC 

framework, in company with Anatole France," he remarked, " in 
order to get a closer look at the Delphic Sibyl. We were close 
enough to touch it with our hands; and I was surprised to 
discover that, instead of losing, it gained impressiveness on 
nearer view. The grand, set face made a tremendous impres- 
sion upon me. For the first time, I fully realized that Michael 
Angelo was a great artist, and a great man as well — because 
his every subject is a person of genius. He never had a com- 
monplace subject. His models are extraordinary people. 
They are all Supermen and Superwomen. 

" Michael Angelo, you see," he continued, " taught me this — 
always to put people of genius into my works. I am always 
setting a genius over against a commonplace person." 

In the same spirit, Shaw praised Madox Brown as a realist, 
" because he had vitality enough to find intense enjoyment in 
the world as it really is, unbeautified, unidealized, untitivated 
in any way for artistic consumption." The sad, sensuous day- 
dreams of Rossetti, the gentlemanly draughtsmanship of Leigh- 
ton, the whole romantic trend of English art, with its delicacy 
of sentiment, its beauty-fancying, its reality-shirking philoso- 
phy, found Shaw coldly, cruelly condemnatory. " Take the 
young lady painted by Ingres as ' La Source,' for example. 
Imagine having to make conversation for her for a couple of 
hours." This gives the tone of his criticism. His deepest scorn 
was aroused by that form of art which sets up " decorative 
moral systems contrasting roseate and rapturous vice with 
lilied and languorous virtue, making ' Love ' face both ways 
as the universal softener and redeemer." The artist who sought 
to depict life with perfect integrity — in Browning's phrase, " to 
paint man man, whatever the issue " — the artist who sought to 
express the veracity and reality of life rather than its imagined 
beauty and poetry, found in Shaw an unhesitating champion. 
This passion for unidealized reality was the outcome of long 
and deliberate study of art works, concerning each of which 
Shaw deliberately forced himself to form an intelligent and 
conscious estimate. This was the solid residuum of his 
studies, rescued from a ruck of sophistication. " I remember 
once when I was an art critic/' wrote Shaw in 1897, " and 

219 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

when Madox Brown's work was only known to me by a few 
drawings, treating Mr. Frederick Shields to a critical demon- 
stration of Madox Brown's deficiencies, pointing out in one of 
the drawings the lack of ' beauty ' in some pair of elbows that 
had more of the wash-tub than of ' The Toilet of Venus ' about 
them. Mr. Shields contrived without any breach of good man- 
ners to make it quite clear to me that he considered Madox 
Brown a great painter and me a fool. I respected both con- 
victions at the time ; and now I share them. Only, I plead in 
extenuation of my folly that I had become so accustomed to 
take it for granted that what every English painter was driv- 
ing at was the sexual beautification and moral idealization of 
life into something as unlike itself as possible, that it did not at 
first occur to me that a painter could draw a plain woman for 
any other reason than that he could not draw a pretty one." * 

Shaw stood forth as a champion of all forms of art — pic- 
torial, fictive and dramatic — which aim at realistic exposure 
of the sheer facts of life without idealistic falsification and 
romantic sublimation. He lauded Madox Brown, for example, 
as he lauded Ibsen, and for the same reason: they both took 
for their themes " not youth, beauty, morality, gentility and 
prosperity as conceived by Mr. Smith of Brixton and Bays- 
water, but real life taken as it is, with no more regard for poor 
Smith's dreams and hypocrisies than the weather has for his 
shiny silk hat when he forgets his umbrella." It is no matter 
for surprise that the unshirking student of sociological condi- 
tions should have chosen to write Widowers' Houses and Mrs. 
Warren's Profession; it would have been astounding had he 
not done so. And yet the catholicity of his taste in art en- 
abled him to realize, not simply one aspect of English art, but 
the real English art-culture of to-day. To Shaw, indeed, the 
significance of the modern movement in England had its germ 
in the growing sense of the " naive dignity and charm " of 
thirteenth-century work, in a passionate affection for the ex- 
quisite beauty of fifteenth-century art. " The whole rhetorical 



* Madox Brown, Watts, and Ibsen. In the Saturday Review, March 13th, 
1897. 



THE ART CRITIC 

school in English literature, from Shakespeare to Byron," he 
once wrote, " appears to us in our present mood only another 
side of the terrible degringolade from Michael Angelo to 
Canova and Thorwaldsen, all of whose works would not now 
tempt us to part with a single fragment by Donatello, or even 
a pretty foundling baby by Delia Robbia." He maintained 
that William Morris made himself the greatest living master 
of the English language, both in prose and verse, by picking 
up the tradition of the literary art where Chaucer left it ; that 
Burne-Jones made himself the greatest among English deco- 
rative painters by picking up the tradition of his art where 
Lippi left it, and utterly ignoring " their Raphaels, Correggios 
and stuff " ; and that Morris and Burne-Jones, close friends 
and co-operators in many a masterpiece, form the highest aris- 
tocracy of English art of our day.* 

The only controversial question that came up during Shaw's 
period as an art critic was raised by the Impressionists ; and 
his reputation, with the select few, for consistency is sustained 
by the course he adopted. He recognized Impressionism as a 
new birth of energy in art, a movement in painting which was 
wholly beneficial and progressive, and in no sense insane and 
decadent. Despite the fact that the movement, like all new 
movements in art, was accompanied by many absurdities — ex- 
hibition of countless daubs, the practice of optical distortion, 
the substitution of " canvases which looked like enlargements 
of obscure photographs for the familiar portraits of masters 
of the hounds in cheerfully unmistakable pink coats, mounted 
on bright chestnut horses " — Shaw supported it vigorously be- 
cause, " being the outcome of heightened attention and quick- 
ened consciousness on the part of its disciples, it was evidently 
destined to improve pictures greatly by substituting a natural, 
observant, real style for a conventional, taken-for-granted, 
ideal one." It is needless to say that Shaw did not fall into 
the Philistine trap and talk " greenery yallery " nonsense about 
Burne-Jones and the pre-Raphaelite school : his admiration was 
checked by the sternest critical reservations. He applauded 

* Cf. King Arthur. In the Saturday Review, January 19th, 1895. 

221 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the Impressionists for their busy study of the atmosphere, and 
of the relation of light and dark between the various objects 
depicted, i.e., of " values." Like Zola in his championship of 
Monet, Shaw led a miniature crusade in behalf of Whistler, 
whose pictures at first quite naturally amazed people accus- 
tomed to see the " good north light " of a St. John's Wood 
studio represented at exhibitions as sunlight in the open air — 
for example, Bouguereau's " Girl in a Cornfield." More than 
this need not be said: that Shaw never joined the ranks of tjie 
moqueurs who called Mr. Whistler " Jimmy." 

It is worthy of record that Shaw vigorously and ably cham- 
pioned the Dutch school, earnestly advocating the claims of 
James Maris as a great painter ; and he stood up for Van Uhde, 
not only in defence of his pictures of Christ surrounded by 
people in tall hats and frock coats, but also in favour of his 
excellent painting of light in a dry, crisp, diffused way then 
quite unfashionable. But his most signal art criticism of the 
last decade, beyond question, has had to do with photography. 
In 1901, he announced that " the conquest by photography of 
the whole field of monochromatic representative art may be 
regarded as completed by the work of this year." His posi- 
tion is based on the dictum that " in photography, the draw- 
ing counts for nothing, the thought and judgment count for 
everything; whereas in the etching and daubing processes 
where great manual skill is needed to produce anything that 
the eye can endure, the execution counts for more than the 
thought." This is no new or sudden notion, derived from the 
study of some photographic exhibition, but the mature state- 
ment of a judgment arrived at over a quarter of a century ago. 
In An Unsocial Socialist, Trefusis astounds Erskine and Sir 
Charles Brandon with those same remarkable views on photog- 
raphy which to-day, in the mouth of Bernard Shaw, so delight 
the patrons of the Photographic Salon.* 

" It is more than twenty years since I first said in print 
that nine-tenths (or ninety-nine hundredths, I forget 

* Compare Photography, October 26th, 1909. 

222 






THE ART CRITIC 

which) of what was then done by brush and pencil would 
presently be done, and far better done, by the camera. 
But it needed some imagination, as well as some hardihood, 
to say this at that time . . . because the photographers 
of that day were not artists. . . . Let us admit hand- 
somely that some of the elder men had the root of the 
matter in them as the younger men of to-day; but the 
process did not then attract artists. . . . On the whole, 
the process was not quite ready for the ordinary artist, 
because (1) it could not touch colour or even give colours 
their proper light values; (2) the Impressionist movement 
had not then rediscovered and popularized the great range 
of art that lies outside colour; (B) the eyes of artists had 
been so long educated to accept the most grossly fictitious 
conventions as truths of representation that many of the 
truths of the focussing screen were at first repudiated as 
grotesque falsehoods; (4) the wide-angled lens did in effect 
lie almost as outrageously as a Royal Academician, whilst 
the anastigmat was revoltingly prosaic, and the silver 
print, though so exquisite that the best will, if they last, 
be one day prized by collectors, was cloying, and only 
suitable to a narrow range of subjects; (5) above all, the 
vestries would cheerfully pay fifty pounds for a villainous 
oil-painting of a hospitable chairman, whilst they consid- 
ered a guinea a first-rate price for a dozen cabinets, and 
two-pound-ten a noble bid for an enlargement, even when 
the said enlargement had been manipulated so as to be 
as nearly as possible as bad as the fifty pound painting. 
But all that is changed nowadays. Mr. Whistler, in the 
teeth of a storm of ignorant and silly ridicule, has forced 
us to acquire a sense of tone, and has produced portraits 
of almost photographic excellence; the camera has taught 
us what we really saw as against what the draughtsman 
used to show us ; and the telephoto lens and its adaptations, 
with the isochromatic plate and screen, and the variety 
and manageableness of modern printing processes, have 
converted the intelligent artists, smashed the picture- 
fancying critics, and produced exhibitions such as those 

223 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

now open at the Dudley and New Galleries, which may 
be visited by people who, like myself, have long since 
given up as unendurable the follies and falsehoods, the 
tricks, fakes, happy accidents, and desolating conventions 
of the picture galleries. The artists have still left to 
them invention, didactics, and (for a little while longer) 
colour. But selection and representation, covering ninety- 
nine-hundredths of our annual output of art, belong hence- 
forth to photography. Someday the camera will do the 
work of Velasquez and Peter de Hooghe, colour and all; 
and then the draughtsmen and painters will be left to 
cultivate the pious edifications of Raphael, Kaulbach, 
Delaroche, and the designers of the S. P. C. K. But even 
then they will photograph their models instead of draw- 
ing them." * 

In a paper Maurice Maeterlinck wrote for Mr. Alvin Lang- 
don Coburn, who kindly gave me a copy, he charges art with 
having held itself aloof from " the great movement which for 
half a century has engrossed all forms of human activity in 
profitably exploiting the natural forces that fill heaven and 
earth." Maeterlinck lauds the camera as an instrument of 
thought, proclaiming it the best of mediums, because it serves 
" to portray objects and beings more quickly and more accu- 
rately than can pencil or crayon." Just as Maeterlinck con- 
cludes that thought has at last found a fissure through which 
to penetrate the mystery of this anonymous force (the sun), 
" invade it, subjugate it, animate it, and compel it to say such 
things as have not yet been said in all the realm of chiaroscuro, 
of grace, of beauty and of truth," so Shaw expresses his belief 
that " the old game is up," and that " the camera has hope- 
lessly beaten the pencil and paint-brush as an instrument of 
artistic representation." 

Shaw is a vigorous champion of the photographic art in its 
integrity; attempts at imitation of etching or painting draw 
his hottest fire. The idea of sensitive photographers allowing 

* The Exhibitions— 1., by G. Bernard Shaw. In the Amateur Photog- 
rapher, October 1st, 1901. 

224 



THE ART CRITIC 

themselves to be bull-dozed into treating painting, not as an 
obsolete makeshift which they have surpassed and superseded, 
but as a glorious ideal to which they have to live up!!! One 
day Mr. Shaw was showing me some striking examples of his 
own photographic work — a remarkable picture of Sidney Webb, 
I recall in especial, an effect got by omitting to do something 
in taking the photograph. Mr. Shaw remarked that some of 
the most unique and fantastic pictures he had ever taken were 
the results of accidents. One day, for instance, he spilled some 
boiling water over a photograph of himself, which immediately 
converted it into so capital an imitation of the damaged parts 
of Mantegna's frescoes in Mantua that the print delighted him 
more in its ruin than it had in its original sanity. And, in 
view of his violently-expressed detestation of photographic imi- 
tation of painting, it is very refreshing to hear him confess 
that his own experience as a critic and picture fancier had 
sophisticated him so thoroughly, that " those accidental imita- 
tions of the products of the old butter-fingered methods of 
picture-making often fascinate me so that I have to put forth 
all my strength of mind to resist the temptation to become a 
systematic forger of damaged frescoes and Gothic caricatures." 
Mr. Shaw was harshly ridiculed and sharply censured for 
permitting the exhibition in 1906 of a nude photograph of 
himself by Alvin Langdon Coburn. In this connection, I recall 
a conversation with fiduard J. Steichen, who was showing me 
a collection of his masterly prints, including several nudes. 
The faces of the nude figures were averted; and Steichen told 
me, with a laugh, that Shaw had ridiculed him unmercifully 
for permitting his subjects to call attention to their embarrass- 
ment and shame by averting their faces. And in 1901, Mr. 
Shaw wrote: 

" The camera will not build up the human figure into a 
monumental fiction as Michael Angelo did, or coil it cun- 
ningly into a decorative one, as Burne-Jones did. But it 
will draw it as it is, in the clearest purity or the softest 
mystery, as no draughtsman can or ever could. And by 
the seriousness of its veracity it will make the slightest 

225 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

lubricity intolerable. ' Nudes from the Paris Salon ' pass 
the moral octroi because they justify their rank as ' high 
art ' by the acute boredom into which they plunge the 
spectator. Their cheap and vulgar appeal is nullified by 
the vapid unreality of their representation. Photography 
is so truthful — its subjects are so obviously realities, and 
not idle fancies — that dignity is imposed on it as effectu- 
ally as it is on a church congregation. Unfortunately, so 
is that false decency, rightly detested by artists, which 
teaches people to be ashamed of their bodies; and I am 
sorry to see that the photographic life school still shirks 
the faces of its sitters, and thus gives them a disagreeable 
air of doing something they are ashamed of." * 

One morning in Paris, during the period that Shaw was sit- 
ting to Rodin, Coburn, with his camera, caught Shaw coming 
out of his morning bath; whereupon he laughingly bade Shaw 
to " be still and look pleasant." " I casually assumed, as near 
as I could recall it," Mr. Shaw told me, " the pose of Rodin's 
' Le Penseur. 9 It was all done in a moment, and although I am 
not like ' Le Penseur,' at least my pose is not unlike his." Mr. 
Shaw permitted the photograph to be put on exhibition as an 
object-lesson, so to speak, to the photographic life school; as 
Steichen expressed it to me : " I believe Mr. Shaw wanted to 
show the courage of his convictions, by publicly taking the 
medicine he so unhesitatingly prescribed for others." 

It is needless to point out that Bernard Shaw, the analytic 
critic and clear thinker par excellence, would naturally prefer 
photography to painting. When away from London he is sel- 
dom to be seen without a camera slung over his shoulders ; and 
he has been taking pictures, and dabbling away at interesting 
photographic experiments, for many years. Without talent as 
an artist himself, but with almost a passion for photography, 
we need not be surprised to hear him praise the photographer 
because he is free of " that clumsy tool — the human hand — 
which will always go its own single way, and no other." 

* The Exhibitions — II., in the Amateur Photographer, October 18th, 1901. 

226 



THE ART CRITIC 

Steichen and Coburn, he has told me and he has told them, are 
the two greatest photographers in the world; and he once said 
to me of Coburn : " Whenever his work does not please you, 
watch and pray for a while and you will find that your opinion 
will change." * 

To Shaw the true conquest of colour no longer seems far off 
in the light of Lumiere's discoveries, and the day will soon come, 
he surmises, when work like that of Hals and Velasquez may be 
done by men who have never painted anything except their own 
nails with pyro. " As to the painters and their fanciers, I 
snort defiance at them; their day of daubs is over." He once 
declared for two photographs of himself against anything of 
Holbein, Rembrandt, or Velasquez. " When I compare their 
subtle diversity with the monotonous inaccuracy and infirmity 
of drawings, I marvel at the gross absence of analytic power 
and of imagination which still sets up the works of the great 
painters, defects and all, as standard, instead of picking out 
the qualities they achieved and the possibilities they revealed, 
in spite of the barbarous crudity of their methods." There are 
certain quite definite things the photographer has not yet 
achieved: Shaw's imagination as a creative dramatist teaches 
him this, even though he insists that the decisive quality in a 
photographer is the " faculty of seeing certain things and be- 
ing tempted by them." Oscar Wilde acutely remarked that in 
certain modern portraits — Sargent's, notably, I should say — 
there is often as much of the artist as of the subject. Ber- 
nard Shaw insists that in the pictorial and dramatic phases 
of the photographic art of the future, both the artist and the 
subject must be imaginative artists, working in conjunction. 
" As to the creative, dramatic, story-telling painters — Car- 
paccio, and Mantegna, and the miraculous Hogarth, for ex- 
ample — it is clear that photography can do their work only 
through a co-operation of sitter and camerist which assimilates 
the relations of artist and model to those at present existing 
between playwright and actor. Indeed, just as the playwright 
is sometimes only a very humble employee of the actor or 

* Compare Shaw's article, Coburn the Camerist, in the Metropolitan 
Magazine, May, 1906. 

227 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

actress manager, it is conceivable that in dramatic and didactic 
photography the predominant partner will not be necessarily 
either the photographer or the model, but simply whichever 
of the twain contributes the rarest art to the co-operation. 
Already that instinctive animal, the public, goes into a shop 
and says : ' Have you any photographs of Mrs. Patrick Camp- 
bell ? ' and not ' Have you any photographs by Elliott and Fry, 
Downey, etc., etc.?' The Salon is altering this, and photo- 
graphs are becoming known as Demachys, Holland Days, 
Horsley Hintons, and so forth, as who should say Greuzes, 
Hoppners and Linnells. But, then, the Salon has not yet 
touched the art of Hogarth. When it does, 6 The Rake's Prog- 
ress ' will evidently depend as much on the genius of the rake 
as of the moralist who squeezes the bulb, and then we shall see 
what we shall see." 



228 






THE MUSIC CRITIC 



"CORNO DI BASSETTO" AND "G. B. S." 

" Don't be in a hurry to contradict G. B. S., as he never commits himself 
on a musical subject until he knows at least six times as much about it as 
you do."— Music. In the World, January 18th, 1893. 



CHAPTER VIII 

IN 1888 a gentleman described in the World at that time as 
" a Chinese statesman named Tay Pay," * founded the 
Star, claiming for it the distinction of the first and only half- 
penny paper, and ignoring the Echo, which early succumbed to 
the treatment. On the recommendation of Mr. H. W. Massing- 
ham, Shaw was placed on the editorial staff as leader writer, 
on the second day of the paper's existence. At that time the 
Fabian Society had just invented the municipal modification of 
Socialism called Progressivism ; and the sole object of Shaw, 
then a " moderate and constitutional, but strenuous Socialist," 
in joining the Star was to foist this new invention upon it as 
the latest thing in Liberalism. Here Shaw's " impossibilism " 
broke out worse than ever ; and Mr. O'Connor, an Irishman too, 
and a skilled journalist in the bargain, was not to be taken in. 
He refused to print the articles. " Then the Fabian Society 
ordered all its members to write to the Star," records Shaw, 
" expressing indignant surprise at the lukewarmness of its 
Liberalism and the reactionary and obsolete character of its 
views. This was more successful ; the paper became Progressive, 
and London rose so promptly to the new programme, that the 
first County Council election was fought and won on it. The 
Liberal leaders remonstrated almost daily with T. P., being 
utterly bewildered by what was to them a most dangerous 
heresy. But the Star articles became more and more Pro- 
gressive, then ultra-Progressive, then positively Jacobin; and 
the further they went the better London liked them. They were 
not, I beg to say, written by me, but by Mr. H. W. 
Massingham." t 

* Mr. T. P. O'Connor. 

fin speaking of his first appearance as a journalistic writer — in a "Lon- 
don Letter," written, at the age of fifteen, for a well-known journal in 
Scarborough — Max Beerbohm once wrote (the Saturday Review, January 

231 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

While the Fabians were thus engaged in " collaring the Star 
by this stage army stratagem," Shaw, to the utter consterna- 
tion of the Chinese statesman, was writing political leaders for 
which the country was not ripe by about five hundred years, 
according to the political computation of the eighties. Too 
good-natured to do his duty and put Shaw out summarily, Tay 
Pay, in desperation, proposed that Shaw should have a column 
to himself, to be headed " Music," and to be " coloured by occa- 
sional allusions to that art." It was with a gasp of relief that 
he heard Shaw's acceptance of the proposition; and so a new 
career opened for Shaw as " Corno di Bassetto," * a " person 
now forgotten, but I flatter myself, very popular for a couple 
of years in the Star." 

Among Shaw's colleagues on the Star at this time were 
Clement K. Shorter and Richard Le Gallienne. A. B. Walk- 
ley, the distinguished dramatic critic of the London Times, was 
then the " Star man " in the theatres, and although he was 
more fastidious and dignified than the incorrigible " Bassetto," 
he was quite as amusing. " I am far from denying that a man 
of genius may make even a newspaper notice of the Royal 
Academy or of a s Monday Pop.' permanently valuable and 
delightful," Mr. Archer once said ; " all I maintain is that it 
assuredly takes a man of genius to do so. Mr. Bernard Shaw 
. . . has to my thinking a peculiar genius for bringing day- 
by-day musical criticism into vital relation with aesthetics at 
large, and even with ethics and politics — in a word, with 
life. ..." According to his subsequent confession, " The 

26th, 1901): "I well remember that the first paragraph I wrote was in 
reference to the first number of the Star, which had just been published. 
Mr. T. P. O'Connor, in his editorial prommciamento, had been hotly philan- 
thropic. * If,' he had written, * we enable the charwoman to put two lumps 
of sugar in her tea instead of one, then we shall not have worked in vain.' 
My comment on this was that if Mr. O'Connor were to find that char- 
women did not take sugar in their tea, his paper would, presumably, cease 
to be issued. ... I quote it merely to show that I, who am still regarded 
as a young writer, am exactly connate with Mr. Shaw. For it was in this 
very number of the Star that Mr. Shaw, as * Corno di Bassetto,' made his 
first bow to the public." This latter statement, although inaccurate, is 
essentially correct. 

* The name of a musical instrument which went out of use in Mozart's 
time. 

232 




By pet-mission of~\ 



[the: Artist r and "Vanity Fair." 



"Magnetic, he has the power to infect almost everyone with the delight that 

he takes in himself." (Mr. George Bernard Shaw.) 

A Cartoon. By Max Beerbohm. 



[Facing p. 230 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

Star's own captious critic," as Shaw was denominated at the 
time, used the word music in a platonically comprehensive 
sense; for he wrote about anything and everything that came 
into his head. He once spoke of his column in the Star, signed 
" Corno di Bassetto," as " a mixture of triviality, vulgarity, 
farce and tomfoolery with genuine criticism." George Henry 
Lewes' style, as Mr. Archer has shrewdly observed,* reminds 
one of that of " Corno di Bassetto " ; but the dramatic essays 
of Lewes, Shaw freely confesses, are miles beyond the crudities 
of Di Bassetto, although the combination of a laborious criti- 
cism with a recklessly flippant manner is the same in both. In- 
deed, Shaw's column in the Star was perhaps the most startling 
evidence of the insurgency and iconoclasm of the New Jour- 
nalism as represented by the Star, its foremost exponent. 
Imagine a column a week in the sprightly vein of the fol- 
lowing : 

" I warn others that Offenbach's music is wicked. It is 
abandoned stuff: every accent in it is a snap of the fingers 
in the face of moral responsibility, every ripple and 
sparkle on its surface twits me for my teetotalism, and 
mocks at the early rising which I fully intend to make a 
habit of some day. ... In Mr. Cellier's scores, music is 
still the chastest of the muses. In Offenbach's she is — 
what shall I say? — I am ashamed of her. I no longer 
wonder that the Germans came to Paris and suppressed 
her with fire and thunder. Here in England how respect- 
able she is ! Virtuous and rustically innocent her six-eight 
measures are, even when Dorothy sings, ' Come, fill up 
your glass to the brim ' ! She learned her morals from 
Handel, her ladylike manners from Mendelssohn, her sen- 
timent from the ' Bailiff's Daughter of Islington.' But 
listen to her in Paris, with Offenbach. Talk of six-eight 
time : why, she stumbles at the second quaver, only to race 
off again in a wild Bacchanalian, Saturnalian, petticoat 
spurning, irreclaimable, shocking quadrille." 

* In his introduction to the Dramatic Essays of John Forster and George 
Henry Lewes. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

No more accurate characterization of the work of Di Bas- 
setto can be conceived than is to be found in Shaw's own con- 
fession. He secured the privileges he usurped, he says, in two 
ways : first, by taking care that " Corno di Bassetto " should 
always be amusing; and, secondly, by using a considerable 
knowledge of music, which nobody suspected him of possessing, 
to provide a solid substratum of genuine criticism for the mass 
of outrageous levities and ridiculous irrelevancies which were 
the dramatic characteristics of " Bassetto." " I daresay these 
articles would seem shabby, vulgar, cheap, silly, vapid 
enough if they were dug up and exposed to the twentieth cen- 
tury light ; but in those days, and in the context of the topics 
of that time, they were sufficiently amusing to serve their 
turn." * 

It will be recalled that Shaw, from his early childhood, had 
been in close contact with the best that had been thought, felt, 
and written in music. It was his practice as a boy to whistle 
to himself the operatic themes he heard continually practised 
at his home, precisely as a street gamin whistles the latest piece 
of " rag-time." He was introduced to Wagner's music for 
the first time by hearing a second-rate military band play an 
arrangement of the Tanrihauser march. He thought it a rather 
commonplace plagiarism from the famous theme in Der 
Freischiltz. This boyish impression was exactly the same as 
that recorded of the mature Berlioz, who was to Shaw at that 
time the merest shadow of a name which he had read once or 
twice. Shaw learned his notes at the age of sixteen; and al- 
though for a long time thereafter he inflicted untold suffering 
on his neighbours, he became in time quite a good accompanist. 
In the early days in London, when he was not laboriously writ- 
ing five pages a day on one of his novels, Shaw occasionally 
tried his hand at musical composition, at writing and setting 
words to music. I have before me now a folded sheet of pink 
paper, dated " 23d of June, 1883," in Shaw's fine handwriting, 
on which he had written music for one of Shelley's poems, Ros- 
setti edition, Vol. III., p. 107. On the inside of the folded 

* In the Days of Our Youth. In the Star, February 19th, 1906. 

234 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

sheet, in Shaw's hand, is copied the poem, headed Lines, 
beginning : 

"When the lamp is shattered, 

The light in the dust lies dead; 
When the cloud is scattered, 
The rainbow's glory is shed; 

"When the lute is broken, 

Sweet notes are remembered not; 
When the lips have spoken, 
Loved accents are soon forgot" 

Shaw was deeply interested in a study of Wagner's music, and 
took great pains in studying Wagner's methods of composi- 
tion. I have seen Shaw's musical notes made during this 
period — sheets of stiff paper on which he had written out the 
musical scores of the various distinct leit motifs in the Wag- 
nerian operas — the Ring motive, the Rheingold motive, etc., 
etc. — with fine marginal stenographic notes in the Pitman sys- 
tem. He once made quite a study of counterpoint; and, as 
we learned in an earlier chapter, acquired a grounding in 
" Temperament " through his acquaintance with his friend, 
James Lecky. When Mr. O'Connor transferred Shaw from 
the editorial staff to the post of musical critic for the Star, 
believing that he could do no great harm there, his wisdom was 
justified by the result. All his experience in writing and criti- 
cism on the Star, combined with his early knowledge of music, 
filled Shaw's hands with weapons. And when Louis Engel, the 
" best hated musical critic in Europe," as Shaw calls him, found 
it necessary to give up his position as musical critic of the 
World, his post fell to " Corno di Bassetto." 

At the time when Shaw first entered the lists as a musical 
critic, he was possessed of the strongest convictions on the sub- 
ject of music, musicians, and true musical genius. In Love 
Among the Artists Shaw has given expression to his decided 
views concerning the pedantry of the academic schools, the 
absurd jargon of conventional musical criticism, and the 
vacuity and inconsequence of all music, based on method alone, 
which does not come into being through unaffected enthusiasm 
for art, and the sincere effort towards the complete realization 

235 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of personality. The musical criticism which takes the analysis 
of "Bach in B minor" as 1 its point of departure is there held 
up to unmeasured scorn. It seems something more than a 
coincidence that the avoidance of this very subject, with all 
its implications, should have been the condition on which Shaw 
began his career as a critic of music. In connection with his 
appointment as musical critic of the Star, Shaw relates this 
story of Mr. O'Connor : " He placed himself in my hands with 
one reservation only. ' Say what you like,' he said ; ' but for — 
(here I omit a pathetic Oriental adjuration) — don't tell us 
anything about Bach in B minor.' It was a bold speech, con- 
sidering the superstitious terror in which the man who has 
the abracadabra of musical technology at his fingers' end holds 
the uninitiated editor; but it conveyed a golden rule." Shaw 
was in perfect accord with the editor in the belief that " Bach 
in B minor " is not good criticism, not good sense, not inter- 
esting to the general readers, not useful to the student. He 
fulfilled his part of the contract far more completely than the 
" Chinese statesman " had any right to expect. Not only did 
Shaw not tell us anything about " Bach in B minor " : he spent 
six years of his life in holding the practice up to ridicule and 
contempt ! 

Bernard Shaw brought his critical faculty to bear upon music 
in England during the period when the academic faction held 
full sway. There was a large reserve of native musical talent 
in England at this time, but it found nothing like full scope for 
its development, largely because of the commercial pandering 
to popular taste. The so-called masters of contemporary 
music in England were all reared on the methodology of the 
schools. Dr. Mackenzie, the Principal of the Royal Academy 
of Music, was probably the leader of the academic faction. 
Sir George Grove, author of that standard work, the Diction- 
ary of Musicians, was an honoured figure in the world of music. 
Dr. Hubert Parry, at the height of his creative activity, was 
writing and occasionally conducting his oratorios, such as Job 
and Judith. These and other earlier works of his — notably, 
L 9 Allegro ed it Pensieroso and Prometheus — Shaw took the ut- 
most pleasure in declaring to be " without any merit whatso- 

236 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

ever," or " the most conspicuous failures," despite their fine 
feeling, their scrupulous moderation, and other pleasant and 
perfectly true irrelevancies. At the Albert Hall, Sir Joseph 
Barnby, Principal of the Royal Choral Society, in his measured 
and complacent style, was leading those huge, lumbering choirs 
which are still the pride of Great Britain. Villiers Stanford, 
that Irish professor ever trifling in a world of ideas, was writ- 
ing his Eden, and other works, which entitled him to a high 
place in the councils of academicism. Goring Thomas, for his 
Golden Web, and other operas, had already attained a posi- 
tion as a dramatic composer, which, according to Shaw, at 
least, " placed the production of an opera of his beyond all 
suspicion as a legitimate artistic enterprise." Arnold Dol- 
metsch, that rarely fine interpreter of ancient music, was 
giving those unique viol concerts in the hall of Barnard's Inn 
and elsewhere which charmed Arthur Symons yesterday as they 
charmed Bernard Shaw long ago. Gilbert and Sullivan had 
once more joined forces in Utopia, scoring another operatic 
triumph, somewhat less decisive and conspicuous, it must be 
confessed, than Pinafore, The Mikado and The Pirates of 
Penzance, Cowen was winning encomiums as a conductor, and 
Sterndale Bennett was still a name to conjure with. To the 
many, Wagner, like Ibsen, was still an offensive impostor. But 
Ashton Ellis's exhaustive task of translating Wagner's works 
was slowly proceeding; and Armbruster, that Bayreuth exten- 
sion lecturer, so to speak, aided by Shaw in the Star and in the 
World, was paving the way for a more general comprehension 
and appreciation of Wagner in England. Paderewski was 
slowly mounting to the position of the foremost living pianist, 
and Patti had begun to give her " Farewell Concerts." 

In musical criticism, as in all other phases of his strangely 
diversified career, Shaw is essentially a revolutionary. His at- 
tack upon Parry's Job, so he always maintained, threatened to 
call forth a great national protest! He fought for Wagner 
with the same revolutionary enthusiasm which enlisted him in 
the cause of Ibsen — and Shaw. He had no tolerance for any- 
thing traditional, not even for traditional versions of old airs, 
for the simple reason that they were always inaccurate. So 

237 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

jealous was he of his critical sense, for fear of its prostitution 
by irrelevant beauty or factitious romance, that he steadfastly 
steeled himself against that subtlest of all forces in undermin- 
ing critical integrity — personal magnetism. 

Perhaps the simplest way to arrive at a comprehension of 
Shaw, the critic of music, is by taking account of his tastes and 
aversions. For example, Shaw usually viewed Paderewski's 
performances, at the time when the Polish pianist was first 
creating such sensations in England, as brutal contests between 
the piano and the pianist to settle the question of the survival 
of the fittest. The following description of his sensations on 
hearing Paderewski is not without its reminder of that once 
popular piece de recitation, How Ruby Played* " The con- 
certo was over, the audience in wild enthusiasm, and the piano 
a wreck. Regarded as an immensely spirited young harmoni- 
ous blacksmith, who puts a concerto on the piano as upon an 
anvil, and hammers it out with an exuberant enjoyment of the 
swing and strength of the proceeding, Paderewski is at least 
exhilarating ; and his hammer play is not without variety, some 
of it being feathery, if not delicate. But his touch, light or 
heavy, is the touch that hurts; and the glory of his playing 
is the glory that attends murder on a large scale when im- 
petuously done." Three years later, in 1893, Shaw has reached 
the conclusion that Paderewski is a weak, a second-hand com- 
poser, but an artist whose genuine creative achievements have 
assured him the title of the greatest of living pianists. " I 
had rather see Paderewski in his next composition for or- 
chestra drop the piano altogether," Shaw said. " It is the 
one instrument he does not understand as a composer, exactly 
because he understands it so well as an executant." 

For David Bispham Shaw had the sincerest admiration, and 
the De Reszkes won his praise because, as he explained it, 
they sang like dignified men, instead of like male viragoes in 
the dramatic Italian style. He made a point of insisting, how- 
ever, that Edouard de Reszke occasionally abused his power by 
" wilful bawling " for the mere fun of making a thundering 

*The reference is to Rubinstein. 

238 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

noise. On hearing Gerster in 1890, he was sufficiently charmed 
to say : u The old artistic feeling remained so unspoiled and 
vivid that, if here and there a doubt crossed me whether the 
notes were all reaching the furthest half-crown seat as tell- 
ingly as they came to my front stall, I ignored it for the sake 
of the charm which neither singer nor opera (The Huguenots) 
has lost for me." Of a concert given in 1893 by " our still 
adored Patti," whom he calls " now the most accomplished of 
mezzo-sopranos," he gives the following description: 

"It always amuses me to see that vast audience (at 
Albert Hall) from the squares and villas listening with 
moist eyes whilst the opulent lady from the celebrated 
Welsh castle fervently sings : ' Oh, give me my lowly 
thatched cottage again.' The concert was a huge success : 
there were bouquets, raptures, effusions, kissings of chil- 
dren, graceful sharings of the applause with obbligato 
players — in short, the usual exhibition of the British 
bourgeoisie in the part of Bottom and the prima donna 
in the part of Titania. Patti hazarded none of her old 
exploits as a florid soprano with an exceptional range: 
her most arduous achievement was * Ah, fors e lui* so 
liberally transposed that the highest notes in the rapid 
traits were almost all sharp, the artist having been accus- 
tomed for so many years to sing them at a higher pitch. 
Time has transposed Patti a minor third down, but the 
middle of her voice is still even and beautiful; and this 
with her unsurpassed phrasing and that delicate touch 
and expressive nuance which make her cantabile singing 
so captivating, enables her to maintain what was, to my 
mind, always the best part of her old supremacy." * 

Of that brilliant executant Essipoff, the wife of Leschetizky, 
Shaw said that if it were possible to believe that she cared two 
straws about what she played, she would be one of the great- 
est executive musicians of Europe. Hollman was, on the whole 

* Music, signed G. B. S., in the World, June 7th, 1893. 

239 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

and without any exception, in Shaw's opinion, the greatest 
violoncellist he had ever heard. Joachim's fineness of tone, 
perfect dignity of style, and fitness of phrasing impressed Shaw 
as truly magnificent; and when he heard him play Bach's 
" Chaconne in D minor," he confessed that he came as near 
as he ever came to calling anything done by mortal artist per- 
fect. Ysaye, that other master-violinist, moved Shaw as much 
as he moved Symons by the perfectly harmonious blending of 
his every faculty. Shaw smilingly reminded all readers of the 
screed of G. B. S. that " Decidedly, if Ysaye only perseveres 
in playing splendidly to us for twenty-five years more or so, 
it will dawn on us at last that he is one of the greatest of living 
artists; and then he may play how he pleases until he turns 
ninety without the least risk of ever hearing a word of dis- 
paragement or faint praise." 

In Shaw's view, Mozart is the ideal, the supreme composer. 
Again and again, throughout his works, Shaw has lavished upon 
Mozart the finely-tempered praise of the clear-eyed devotee. 
The critical rating of a composer is overwhelmingly impressive 
when it is supported by the avowal of personal indebtedness; 
and Shaw has frequently asserted that Mozart has influenced 
his dramatic works more than any English dramatist since 
Shakespeare. I remember discussing Mozart with Mr. Shaw 
one day; and I took occasion to express my scepticism as to 
the possibility of any profound influence exerted by Mozart 
the composer upon Shaw the dramatist. " In a certain sense, 
Mozart must always have been a model for me," replied Mr. 
Shaw. " Throughout the entire period of my career as a 
critic of music, I always thought and wrote of Mozart as a 
master of masters. The dream of a musician is to have the 
technique of Mozart. It was not his c divine melodies ' but his 
perfect technique that profoundly influenced me. What a 
great thing to be a dramatist for dramatists, just as Mozart 
was a composer for composers! First, and above all things 
else, Mozart was a master to masters" 

The second part of Faust impressed Shaw as the summit of 
Schumann's achievement in dramatic music; and he was very 
ready to admit that Schumann had at least one gift which has 

240 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

now come to rank very high among the qualifications of a com- 
poser for the stage : a strong feeling for harmony as a means of 
emotional expression. He always found Brahms to be insuf- 
ferably tedious when he tried to be profound, but delightful 
when he merely tried to be pleasant and naively sentimental. 
" Euphuism, which is the beginning and end of Brahms' big 
works," Shaw remarks in connection with the " Symphony in 
E minor," " is more to my taste in music than in literature. 
Brahms takes an essentially commonplace theme; gives it a 
strange air by dressing it in the most elaborate and far-fetched 
harmonies; keeps his countenance severely (which at once con- 
vinces an English audience that he must have a great deal in 
him) ; and finds that a good many wiseacres are ready to guar- 
antee him as deep as Wagner, and the true heir of Beethoven." 
Dvorak, Bohemia's most eminent creative musician, famed alike 
for an inexhaustible wealth of melodic invention and a rich 
variety of colouring, is stamped by Shaw as a romantic com- 
poser, and only that. His " Requiem " Shaw found utterly 
tedious and mechanical, while his " Symphony in G " is " very 
nearly up to the level of a Rossini overture, and would make 
excellent promenade music at the summer fetes." The an- 
nouncement of a Mass by Dvorak affected Shaw very much as 
would the announcement of a " Divine Comedy " in ever so 
many cantos by Robert Louis Stevenson! He regarded Verdi 
as the greatest of living dramatic composers ; and years before 
Shaw began writing musical criticism, when Von Biilow and 
others were contemptuously repudiating Verdi, Shaw was able 
to discern in him a man possessing more power than he knew 
how to use, or, indeed, was permitted to use by the old operatic 
forms imposed on him by circumstances.* 

For the solemnly manufactured operas of Saint Saens, Shaw 
felt not mere distaste, but genuine contempt. As soon, in fact, 
as he discovered the sort of thing that a French composer 
dreams of as the summit of operatic achievement, his artistic 
sympathy with Paris was cut off at the main. Early in his 
career, he solemnly announces, he gave up Paris as impossible 

* In this connection compare Shaw's article : A Word More about Verdi, 
in the Anglo-Saxon Review, Vol. VIII., March, 1901. 

241 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

from the artistic point of view ! His characterization of French 
music is nothing short of Heinesque. 

" London I do not so much mind. Your average Lon- 
doner is, no doubt, as void of feeling for the fine arts as 
a man can be without collapsing bodily; but, then, he is 
not at all ashamed of his condition. On the contrary, he 
is rather proud of it, and never feels obliged to pretend 
that he is an artist to the tips of his fingers. His pre- 
tences are confined to piety and politics, in both of which 
he is an unspeakable impostor. It is your Parisian who 
concentrates his ignorance and hypocrisy, not on politics 
and religion, but on art. In this unwholesome state of 
self-consciousness he demands statues and pictures and 
operas in all directions, long before any appetite for 
beauty has set his eyes or ears aching; so that he at once 
becomes the prey of pedants who undertake to supply him 
with classical works, and swaggerers who set up in the 
romantic department. Hence, as the Parisian, like other 
people, likes to enjoy himself, and as pure pedantry is 
tedious and pure swaggering tiresome, what Paris chiefly 
loves is a genius who can make the classic voluptuous and 
the romantic amusing. And so, though you cannot walk 
through Paris without coming at every corner upon some 
fountain or trophy or monument for which the only pos- 
sible remedy is dynamite, you can always count upon the 
design including a female figure free from the defect known 
to photographers as under-exposure; and if you go to 
the opera — which is, happily, an easily avoidable fate — 
you may wonder at the expensive trifling that passes as 
musical poetry and drama, but you will be compelled to 
admit that the composer has moments, carried as far as 
academic propriety admits, in which he rises from sham 
history and tragedy to genuine polka and barcarolle; 
whilst there is, to boot, always one happy half-hour when 
the opera-singers vanish, and capable, thoroughly trained, 
hard-working, technically skilled executants entertain you 
with a ballet. Of course the ballet, like everything else in 

242 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

Paris, is a provincial survival, fifty years behind English 
time; but still it is generally complete and well done by 
people who understand ballet, whereas the opera is gen- 
erally mutilated and ill done by people who don't under- 
stand opera." 

Is it any wonder, then, that the " tinpot stage history " of 
Saint Saens was the bane of Shaw's existence and the abomi- 
nation of his critical sense? Or that Offenbach's music struck 
him as wicked, abandoned stuff? And of Meyerbeer, then still 
regarded in Paris as a sort of Michael Angelo, he says : " If 
you try to form a critical scheme of the development of Eng- 
lish poetry from Pope to Walt Whitman, you cannot by any 
stretch of ingenuity make a place in it for Thomas Moore, 
who is accordingly either ignored in such schemes or else con- 
temptuously dismissed as a flowery trifler. In the same way, 
you cannot get Meyerbeer into the Wagnerian scheme except 
as the Autolycus of the piece." 

The most significant feature of Shaw's career as a musical 
critic was his championship of Wagner. Although he had an 
exalted admiration for Wagner, he was no hero-worshipper, nor 
in the least degree blind to the defects of Wagner as a com- 
poser who failed to preserve philosophic continuity and co- 
herence in his greatest dramatic achievement. The similarity 
of tastes in music between Wagner and Shaw is a very notice- 
able feature of the " C. di B." and " G. B. S." criticisms. It 
was to be expected that Shaw the dramatist would admire Wag- 
ner for composing music designed to heighten the expression 
of human emotion; he realized fully that such music was in- 
tensely affecting in the presence of that emotion, and utter 
nonsense apart from it. Like Wagner, Shaw had a deep love 
for Beethoven, an intense admiration for Mozart, and a sincere 
appreciation of the Mendelssohn of the Scotch symphony. And 
he likewise shared Wagner's sovereign contempt for the efforts 
of Schumann and Brahms to be " profound." 

A German would laugh at the notion that Wagner required 
any " championing " during the years from 1888 to 1894 
inclusive, since the Bayreuth performances began in 1876. The 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

chief novelty in Shaw's Wagner criticisms was his attack on 
Bayreuth for the various old-fashioned absurdities perpetrated 
there — the inadequacy of mise en scene, the ridiculous un- 
naturalness and inappropriateness of scenery and dress, and 
the retention in leading parts of " beer-barrels of singers " 
who did not know how to sing. The result of Shaw's first visit, 
in 1889, was an article on Bayreuth for the English Illustrated 
Magazine; a later visit produced an illustrated article in the 
Pall Mall Budget. Besides this, both visits were reported day 
by day by Shaw in the Star, over his signature, " Corno di 
Bassetto," or " C. di B." Up to that time, in Shaw's opinion, 
Bayreuth criticism had been either worship or blasphemy. " I 
threw off all this, and criticized performances of Wagner's 
works at Bayreuth precisely as I should have criticized per- 
formances of Wagner's works at Covent Garden. The effect 
on pious Wagnerians was as though I had brawled in 
church." 

In his relation of musical critic in England, Shaw took the 
greatest pains to ascertain the exact bearings of the contro- 
versy which had raged round Wagner's music-dramas since the 
middle of the century. The six years of Shaw's activity as a 
musical critic fell within the decade of Sir Augustus Harris's 
greatest operatic enterprises. Shaw spent a large part of his 
time in making onslaught after onslaught on the " spurious 
artistic prestige " of Covent Garden. For some seasons he was 
forced to pay for his own stall; and there were times, Shaw 
says, when " I was warned that my criticisms were being col- 
lated by legal experts for the purpose of proving ' prejudice ' 
against me, and crushing me by mulcting my editor in fabu- 
lous sums. . . . The World proved equal to the occasion in 
the conflict with Covent Garden, and, finally, my invitations 
to the opera were renewed; the impresario made my personal 
acquaintance, and maintained the pleasantest relations with me 
from that time onward. . . ." It is true that Jean de Reszke 
made his first appearance on any stage on July 13th, 1889, 
as the hero of Die Meister singer; but it infuriated Sir Augus- 
tus Harris to be publicly reminded by Shaw that Tristan and 
Isolde, having been composed in 1859, was perhaps a little 

244 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

overdue. Indeed, it was not until 1896 that Tristcm and Isolde 
at last made its way into the repertory of Royal Italian Opera 
in England. Shaw exhausted himself, in the columns of the 
World, in " apparently hopeless attempts to shame the De Resz- 
kes out of their perpetual Faust and Mephistopheles, Romeo and 
Laurent, and in pooh-poohed declarations that there were such 
works in existence as Die Walkiire and Tristan. It was not Sir 
Augustus Harris who roused Jean de Reszke from his long 
lethargy, but his own artistic conscience and the shock of 
Vandyk's brilliant success in Massenet's Manon" And when 
Shaw's successor on the World, on the occasion of the death 
of Sir Augustus Harris in 1896, declared that the great im- 
presario laboured to cast aside the fatuous conventions of the 
Italian school, and to adopt all that was best in the German 
stage, Shaw was provoked into a crushing reply. " Sancta 
simplicitas! " he exclaimed. " The truth is that he fought 
obstinately for the Italian fatuities against the German re- 
forms. He was saturated with the obsolete operatic traditions 
of the days of Tietjens, whose Semiramide and Lucrezia he 
admired as great tragic impersonations. He described Das 
Rheingold as 6 a damned pantomime ' ; he persisted for years 
in putting Tannhauser on the stage with Venusberg effects that 
would have disgraced a Whitechapel Road gaff, with the 
twelve horns on the stage replaced by a military band behind 
the scenes, and with Rotten Row trappings on the horses. . . . 
It was only in the last few years that he began to learn some- 
thing from Calve and the young Italian school, from Wagner, 
from Massenet and Bruneau, and from Verdi's latest works. 
In opera, unfortunately, he was soaked in tradition, and kept 
London a quarter of a century behind New York and 
Berlin — down almost to the level of Paris — in dramatic 



music. 



» * 



It happens that Shaw's squarest and solidest contributions 
to Wagnerian criticism were written after his career as musical 
critic ceased. At the request of Mr. Benjamin Tucker, editor 
of Liberty, a journal of Philosophic Anarchy, published in 

* De Mortuis, signed G. B. S., in the Saturday Review, July 4th, 1896. 

245 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

New York, Shaw wrote a reply to Max Nordau's Degeneration, 
which was then (1895) making a great impression on the 
American mind. This reply, entitled A Degenerate's View of 
Nordau, was published in a double copy of Liberty, especially 
printed to make room for it ; Mr. Tucker sent a copy to every 
paper in America; and, as Shaw avers, Nordau's book has 
never been heard of in an American paper since. It was un- 
doubtedly a great piece of journalism in those days for Mr. 
Tucker to pick out the right man — as Shaw unquestionably 
was — for that stupendous task; and Shaw still takes an un- 
holy joy in showing how Tucker the crank was able to beat 
all the big fashionable editors at their own game. Besides 
being largely imported in England, the article did Shaw a 
great private service. For when William Morris read it, he 
at once threw off all reserve in talking to Shaw about modern 
art, and treated him thenceforth as a man who knew enough 
to understand what might be said to him on that subject. The 
article contained, among many other equally able things, an 
eminently sane and intelligible treatment of the development 
of modern music, and its relation to Wagner. Mr. Huneker, 
who regards this as Shaw's finest piece of controversial work, 
rightly declared that it completely swept Nordau from the 
field of discussion.* 

The other piece of Wagnerian criticism by which Shaw is 
best known was the subject of a letter Shaw once wrote to the 

* In the letter Mr. Tucker wrote to Mr. Shaw at Easter, 1895, Shaw 
once told me, he said that he knew Shaw was the only man in the world 
capable of tackling Nordau on his various fields of music, literature, paint- 
ing, etc.: "He said that if I would find out the highest figure ever paid 
by, say, the Nineteenth Century for a single article to any writer, not ex- 
cluding Gladstone or any other eminent man, he would pay me that sum 
for a review of * Degeneration ' for his little paper. This, mind you, from 
a man who was publishing a paper at his own expense, without a chance of 
making anything out of it, and with a considerable chance of finding him- 
self in prison some day for telling the truth about American institutions. 
Mr. Tucker probably worked double shifts and ate half meals for the next 
two or three years to pay off what the adventure cost him." This essay, 
somewhat amplified, was recently (February, 1908) published in America 
by Benjamin R. Tucker, N. Y. — in England by the New Age Press, Lon- 
don — under the title, The Sanity of Art: on Exposure of the Current 
Nonsense about Artists being Degenerate. 

246 




Bernard Partridge. Courtesy of the Artist. 

AHENOBARBUS AT REHEARSAL. 

Reproduced from the original water-color, drawn from memory, in 1894. 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

editor of the 'Academy (October 15th, 1895) : " I see you have 
been announcing a book by me entitled, ' The Complete Wag- 
nerite,' " writes Shaw. " This is an error ; you are thinking 
of an author named Izaak Walton. The book, which is a work 
of great merit, even for me, is called, ' The Perfect Wag- 
nerite,' and is an exposition of the philosophy of Der Ring des 
Nibelungen. It is a G. B. eSsence of modern Anarchism, or 
Neo-Protestantism. This lucid description speaks for itself. 
As it has been written on what the whole medical faculty and 
all the bystanders declare to be my death-bed, it is naturally 
rather a book of devotion than one of those vain brilliancies 
which I was wont to give off in the days of my health and 
strength. — P. S. I have just sprained my ankle in trying to 
master the art of bicycling on one foot. This, with two opera- 
tions and a fall downstairs, involving a broken arm, is my 
season's record so far, leaving me in excellent general condi- 
tion. And yet they tell me a vegetarian can't recuperate ! " 
In this commentary to what had already been written by 
" musicians who are no revolutionists, and revolutionists who 
are no musicians," Shaw reads into Wagner far more Social- 
ism than he had ever read into Ibsen. He took pains to base 
his interpretation upon the facts of Wagner's life — his connec- 
tion with the revolution of 1848, his association with August 
Roeckel and Michael Bakounin, his later pamphlets on social 
evolution, religion, life, art, and the influence of riches — rather 
than upon his recorded utterances in regard to the specific 
meanings of the " Ring " music-dramas. It is not difficult 
to recognize, with Shaw, the portraiture of our capitalistic 
industrial system from the Socialist point of view in the slav- 
ery of the Niblungs and the tyranny of Alberich: but little 
significance attaches to such cheap symbolism. It is more 
difficult to identify the young Siegfried with the anarchist 
Bakounin on the strength of the latter's notorious pamphlet 
demanding the demolition of existing institutions. To the Ring 
of the Niblimgs, Shaw has, so to speak, applied the Ibsenic- 
Nietzschean-Shavian philosophy as a unit of measure, and 
found it to apply at many points. Siegfried is a " totally un- 
moral person, a born Anarchist, the ideal of Bakounin, an 

247 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

anticipation of the 6 overman ' of Nietzsche " — a Germanized 
Dick Dudgeon or a Teutonic Prometheus. Whenever the phi- 
losophy of the " Ring " diverges from the Shavian philosophy, 
Wagner was " wandering in his mind." Whenever his own 
explanations do not agree with the idee fixe of Shaw, they only 
prove, as was once claimed by Shaw in the case of Ibsen, that 
Wagner was far less intellectually conscious of his purpose 
than Shaw. As an exposition of the Shavian philosophy, the 
book is worthy of note; as an exposition of the Wagnerian 
philosophy, it is unconvincing. The book is exceedingly in- 
genious and in places, brilliant; but it is the work of an ideo- 
logue and an a-priorist. 

One final word in regard to Shaw's position as a champion 
of Wagner. While it is of little importance now, still Wagner 
and anti-Wagner was the great controversy of that time in 
music until anti-Wagnerism finally became ridiculous in the 
face of Wagner's overwhelming popularity. In the same way, 
Ibsen and anti-Ibsen was the great controversy in drama in 
London after 1889. In both instances, the whirligig of time 
has brought round its revenges. For some years, even before 
his death, Ibsen stood unchallenged as the premier dramatist 
of the age. And now that Wagner's battle is won and over- 
won, Shaw has the profound gratification of seeing " the pro- 
fessors, to avert the ridicule of their pupils, compelled to 
explain (quite truly) that Wagner's technical procedure in 
music is almost pedantically logical and grammatical; that 
the Lohengrin prelude is a masterpiece of the ' form ' proper to 
its aim ; and that his disregard of 4 false relations,' and his free 
use of the most extreme discords without ' preparation,' were 
straight and sensible instances of that natural development of 
harmony which has proceeded continually from the time when 
common six-four chords were considered ' wrong,' and such 
free use of unprepared dominant sevenths and minor ninths as 
had become common in Mozart's time would have seemed the 
maddest cacophony." And in a letter to me, Mr. Shaw said 
(July 15th, 1905) : " I was on the right side in both instances: 
that is all. According to the Daily Chronicle, Wagner and 
Ibsen were offensive impostors. As a matter of fact, they 

243 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

were the greatest living masters in their respective arts; and 
I knew that quite well. The critics of the nineteenth century- 
had two first-rate chances — Ibsen and Wagner. For the most 
part they missed both. Second best they could recognize; but 
best was beyond them." * 

Mr. Shaw's most recent incursion into the field of music 
criticism was occasioned by a criticism of Richard Strauss' 
Elektra, at the time of its first production in England in 
March, 1910, from the pen of the well-known critic of music, 
Mr. Ernest Newman. The vigorous controversy between Mr. 
Shaw and Mr. Newman that ensued was, of course, quite in- 
conclusive, so far as erecting any absolute standards by which 
Strauss' greatness as a dramatic composer might be judged. 
But it evoked from Mr. Shaw an outburst of enthusiasm un- 
paralleled in his career as a critic of music: 

" What Hofmannsthal and Strauss have done is to take 
Clytemnestra and Aegistheus, and by identifying them 
with everything that is evil and cruel, with all that needs 
must hate the highest when it sees it, with hideous domi- 
nation and coercion of the higher by the baser, with the 
murderous rage in which the lust for a lifetime of orgi- 
astic pleasure turns on its slaves in the torture of its 
disappointment and the sleepless horror and misery of its 
neurasthenia, to so rouse in us an overwhelming flood of 
wrath against it and ruthless resolution to destroy it, that 
Elektra's vengeance becomes holy to us; and we come to 
understand how even the gentlest of us could wield the 
axe of Orestes or twist our firm fingers in the black hair 
of Clytemnestra to drag back her head and leave her 
throat open to the stroke. 

" That was a task hardly possible to an ancient Greek. 

* Is Shaw, the anti-romantic, consistent in championing Wagner, the 
head and front of European romanticism? Shaw, the individualist, recog- 
nized that Wagner was a great creative force in art; that was sufficient 
cause for his championship. It may be interesting in this connection to 
consult Julius Bab's acute analysis of Shaw's Wagnerism: Bernard Shaw 
(S. Fischer, Berlin), pp. 210-214. 

849 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

. . . And that is the task which Hofmannsthal has achieved. 
Not even in the third scene of Das Rheingold, or in the 
Klingsor scenes in Parsifal, is there such an atmosphere 
of malignant and cancerous evil as we get here. And that 
the power with which it is done is not the power of the 
evil itself, but of the passion that detests and must and 
finally can destroy that evil, is what makes the work 
great, and makes us rejoice in its horror. . . . 

" That the power of conceiving it should occur in the 
same individual as the technical skill and natural faculty 
needed to achieve its complete and overwhelming expres- 
sion in music, is a stroke of the rarest good fortune that 
can befall a generation of men. I have often said, when 
asked to state the case against the fools and money- 
changers who are trying to drive us into a war with Ger- 
many, that the case consists of the single word, Beethoven. 
To-day, I should say with equal confidence, Strauss. 
That we should make war on Strauss and the heroic war- 
fare and aspiration that he represents is treason to hu- 
manity. In this music-drama Strauss has done for us 
just what he has done for his own countrymen: he has 
said for us, with an utterly satisfying force, what all the 
noblest powers of life within us are clamouring to have 
said, in protest against and defiance of the omnipresent 
villainies of our civilization; and this is the highest 
achievement of the highest art." * 

So often was Shaw mocked by scepticism concerning his 
talent and by imperviousness to his mood, that he sometimes 
actually went to the length of tagging one of his Irish bulls 
with the explanatory parenthesis ("I speak as an Irishman "). 
If the larger public ever gains a just understanding of Shaw, 
it will be because they have found this central and directing 
clue: he speaks as an Irishman. The right to say in jest what 
is meant in earnest is a right the average Englishman denies; 
he agrees with Victor Hugo that " every man has a right to be 

* The ' Elektra ' of Strauss and Hofmannsthal. A letter to the editor of 
the Nation (London), March 19th, 1910. 

250 





w - 
O c 

O « 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

a fool, but he should not abuse that right." M. Faguet has 
recently said of Sainte Beuve that he was guided by one of the 
finest professional consciences the world of literature has ever 
known. Early in his career, Shaw succeeded in imparting to 
his readers the conviction that his glaring deficiency was the 
total lack of a professional conscience. Shaw was preoccu- 
pied with the exposition of the eternal comedy. He is that 
hitherto unknown phenomenon in the history of musical criti- 
cism — a musical critic who charged his critical weapon with 
genuine comic force. The conviction has probably come to 
every musical critic in some moment of self-distrust that his 
effort to catch and imprison in written words the elusive spirit 
of music is, after all, only a more or less humorous subterfuge. 
In this respect Shaw differs from every other musical critic who 
ever lived: instead of feeling his criticism to be merely a hu- 
morous subterfuge, he actually believed it to be a comically 
veracious impression of reality. 

No view of Shaw's unique attitude as a critic has yet been 
obtained that is not one-sided, false, or — what is far worse — 
misleading. The absurdly simple truth is that Shaw always 
aimed at saying, in the most forcible and witty way possible, 
exactly what he thought and felt, however absurd, unnatural, 
or comic these criticisms might sound to the " poor, silly, sim- 
ple public." To the feelings of other musical critics, to the 
prejudices of the dry academic schools, or even to the con- 
sensus of opinion, crystallized through the lapse of years, he 
paid no heed whatsoever. He did not feel himself bound by 
the traditions of any journal, by any obligations, fancied or 
real, to operatic managers, or by the predilections of his 
audience. In fact, to put it in a homely way, he was " his own 
man," feeling free to express his opinions exactly as he chose. 
And it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that, since 1885, the 
whole spirit of English criticism, personified in Walkley, 
Archer and Shaw — an Englishman of French descent, a 
Scotchman, and an Irishman — has been a spirit of forthright- 
ness, outspoken frankness and unblushing sincerity. 

In the matter of individual style, Shaw occupies an abso- 
lutely unique position in English literature. He occupied a 

251 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

more unusual terrain than had ever been occupied before. Con- 
cerning the subjects in which he claimed to be thoroughly 
versed, he gaily announced himself as an authority. With an 
air of grandiose condescension, he once confessed that he might 
be mistaken : " Even I am not infallible — that is, not always." 
He really meant that he was. " Let it be remembered, that I 
am a superior person," he characteristically says, " and that 
what seemed incoherent and wearisome fooling to me may have 
seemed an exhilarating pastime to others. My heart knows 
only its own bitterness; and I do not desire to intermeddle 
with the joys of those among whom I am a stranger. I assert 
my intellectual superiority — that is all." He was ever sub- 
limely conscious of his own supreme dialectical and critical 
skill. " Some day I must write a supplement to Schumann's 
' Advice to Young Musicians.' The title will be ' Advice to 
Old Musicians ' ; and the first precept will run, ' Don't be in 
a hurry to contradict G. B. S., as he never commits himself on 
a musical subject until he knows at least six times as much 
about it as you do.' " If he had been matched in argument 
with the greatest living critic of the arts — and he was fre- 
quently matched against the greatest English critics — he would 
doubtless have said to him, in the language of the apochryphal 
anecdote : " All the world's mad save thee and me, John. And 
sometimes I think thee's a little mad too." 

Behind all this " infernal blague " lurks the real critic, 
whose chief conviction is that " Bach in B minor " is not fit 
subject for enjoyment or criticism. "I would not be misun- 
derstood," Mr. Shaw remarked to me one day, " in regard to 
my position about analysis! and ' analytic criticism.' The 
analytic criticism I mercilessly condemn is the sort of criticism 
of Hamlet's soliloquy that reads : ' It is highly significant, in 
the first place, that Hamlet begins his soliloquy with the in- 
finitive of the verb " To be," etc., etc' Far from minimizing 
the function of analysis sanely and appropriately employed 
in criticism, I attribute my superiority as a critic to my supe- 
riority in the faculty of analysis." The inevitable reaction 
from " absolute music " was the dramatic expression of indi- 
viduality, e.g., Wagner. The inevitable reaction from " ana- 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

lytic criticism " is the critical expression of individuality, e.g., 
Shaw. He never hunted out false relations, consecutive fifths 
and sevenths, the first subject, the second subject, the working 
out, and all the rest of " the childishness that could be taught 
to a poodle." His supreme effort was to get away from a 
discussion of the technology of music to the nuances of the 
music itself, the source of its inspiration, the spirit of its 
genius. If Shaw should find Wagner an offensive charlatan 
and his themes cacophonous strings of notes, he would frankly 
say so, without making any effort to 'prove him so by laying 
down the first principles of character and composition, and 
showing that his conduct and his works are incompatible with 
these principles. The expert, in Shaw's view, should merely 
give you his personal opinion for what it is worth. Shaw 
protested against the whole academic system in England, and 
declared himself its open enemy. " This unhappy country 
would be as prolific of musical as of literary composers were 
it not for our schools of music, where they seize the young 
musician, turn his attention forcibly away from the artistic 
element in his art, and make him morbidly conscious of its 
mechanical conditions, especially the obsolete ones, until he 
at last becomes, not a composer, but an adept in a horribly 
dull sort of chess played with lines and dots, each player hav- 
ing different notions of what the right rules are, and playing 
his game so as to flourish his view under the noses of those 
who differ from him. Then he offers his insufferable gambits 
to the public as music, and is outraged because I criticize it as 
music and not as chess." 

Shaw made the most persistent effort to encourage 
the employment of the vernacular in music, as well as 
in criticism of music. An arrant commonplace, made out 
of the most hackneyed commonplace in modern music, 
pleased him more than all the Tenterden Street special- 
ties. " I cry ' Professor ' whenever I find a forced avoid- 
ance of the vernacular in music under the impression that it 
is vulgar. . . . Your men who really can write, your Dickenses, 
Ruskins and Carlyles, and their like, are vernacular above all 
things : they cling to the locutions which everyday use has made 

253 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

a part of our common life. The professors may ask me 
whether I seriously invite them to make their music out of the 
commonplaces of the comic song writer? I reply, unabashed, 
that I do." 

With the deepest fervour, he continued to preach the doc- 
trine of spontaneity and naturalness. " Why hesitate to per- 
petrate the final outrage of letting loose your individuality, 
and saying just what you think in your own way as agreeably 
and frankly as you can? " His own aim was to reach that 
truly terrible fellow, the average man — " the plain man who 
wants a plain answer." If he can only awake the attention 
of the man in the street and, by expressing himself frankly in 
everyday language, the quotidian commerce of thought, occa- 
sionally even in the vernacular of the street, make clear to that 
man the appeal that music makes to a critic acutely sensitive 
to the subtler implications of its highest forms, Shaw is per- 
fectly satisfied with himself and his performance. Accordingly, 
he aimed, primarily, to make an exact record of the sensations 
induced by a certain piece of music, or a certain performer, 
Don Juan or De Reszke, Letty Lind or The Pirates of Pen- 
zance. He made no effort whatsoever to control the current 
of his humour. He allowed it to play as lightly about Patti, 
as uproariously about Paderewski, as derisively about Vieux- 
temps as his inclination directed. The most solemn symphony 
excited his risibility to the explosion point, and the latest Mass 
suggested seaside promenades instead of the life of the world 
to come. 

Shaw's efforts to free musical criticism from the blighting 
effects of academicism, his advocacy of the free expression of 
individuality, and his insistence upon the return to nature, both 
in music and in criticism, brought upon him the scorn and 
contempt that is always the meed of the would-be reformer. 
The French public looked up to Francisque Sarcey with a sort 
of filial veneration, and affectionately dubbed him " uncle." 
The English public sneered at Shaw's brilliant attacks upon 
their favourites and their idols, and looked down upon him, 
not as a reasonable human being, but, as Shaw expressed it, as 
a mere Aunt Sally. Not only did the critics and the public 

254> 



THE MUSIC CRITIC 

laugh at his revolutionary zeal, but they regarded him as an 
amusing incompetent, availing himself of his abundant gift 
of humour to supply the deficiency of any knowledge of music 
or of the possession of the faintest critical sense. Analytic 
criticism was revered, while the individual and impressionistic 
style of Shaw was immoderately enjoyed as the tricky device 
of a colossal humbug. Shaw fought against misrepresentation 
and prejudice with unabated vigour, continually confounding 
his critics with some unanswerable argument that logically re- 
duced their attacks to nothingness. By apt examples, he often 
revealed the absurdities of analytic criticism in literature, once 
confronting his critics with the startling query : " I want to 
know whether it is just that a literary critic should be for- 
bidden to make his living in this way on pain of being inter- 
viewed by two doctors and a magistrate, and haled off to 
Bedlam forthwith; whilst the more a musical critic does it, the 
deeper the veneration he inspires. By systematically neglect- 
ing it I have lost caste as a critic even in the eyes of those who 
hail my abstinence with the greatest relief; and I should be 
tempted to eke out these columns in the MesOpotamian manner 
if I were not the slave of a commercial necessity and a vulgar 
ambition to have my articles read, this being the main reason 
why I write them, and the secret of the constant ' straining 
after effect ' observable in my style." 

Perhaps the most enlightening evidence as to Shaw's posi- 
tion as a critic of music is contained in his recital of an amus- 
ing incident. One day, it seems, a certain young man, whose 
curiosity overswayed his natural modesty, approached Shaw on 
the subject of the G. B. S. column in the World. " At last he 
came to his point with a rush by desperately risking the ques- 
tion: 'Excuse me, Mr. G. B. S., but do you know anything 
about music? The fact is, I am not capable of forming an 
opinion myself; but Dr. Blank says you don't, and — er — Dr. 
Blank is such a great authority that one hardly knows what 
to think.' Now this question put me into a difficulty, because 
I had already learnt by experience that the reason my writings 
on music and musicians are so highly appreciated is that they 

255 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

are supposed by many of my greatest admirers to be a huge 
joke, the point of which lies in the fact that I am totally 
ignorant of music, and that my character of critic is an ex- 
quisitely ingenious piece of acting, undertaken to gratify my 
love of mystification and paradox. From this point of view 
every one of my articles appears as a fine stroke of comedy, 
occasionally broadening into a harlequinade, in which I am 
the clown, and Dr. Blank the policeman. At first I did not 
realize this, and could not understand the air of utter disil- 
lusion and loss of interest in me that would come over people 
in whose houses I incautiously betrayed some scrap of ama- 
teurish enlightenment. But the naive exclamation, ' Oh ! you 
do know something about it, then ! ' at last became familiar 
to me ; and I now take particular care not to expose my knowl- 
edge. When people hand me a sheet of instrumental music, and 
ask my opinion of it, I carefully hold it upside down, and 
pretend to study it in that position with the eye of an expert. 
They invite me to try their new grand piano, I attempt to open 
it at the wrong end; and when the young lady of the house 
informs me that she is practising the 'cello, I innocently ask 
her whether the mouthpiece did not cut her lips dreadfully at 
first. This line of conduct gives enormous satisfaction, in 
which I share to a rather greater extent than is generally 
supposed. But, after all, the people whom I take in thus are 
only amateurs. To place my impostorship beyond question, I 
require to be certified as such by authorities like our Bachelors 
and Doctors of Music — gentlemen who can write a ' Nunc 
Dimittis ' in five real parts, and know the difference between 
a tonal fugue and a real one, and can tell you how old Monte- 
verde was on his thirtieth birthday, and have views as to the 
true root of the discord of the seventh on the supertonic, and 
devoutly believe that si contra fa diabolus est. But I have 
only to present myself to them in the character of a man who 
has been through these dreary games without ever discovering 
the remotest vital connection between them and the art of 
music — a state of mind so inconceivable by them — to make 
them exclaim: 

256 






THE MUSIC CRITIC 

"* Preposterous ass! that never read so far 
To know the cause why music was ordained,' 

and give me the desired testimonials at once. And so I manage 
to scrape along without falling under suspicion of being an 
honest man. 

" However, since mystification is not likely to advance us in 
the long run, may I suggest that there must be something 
wrong in the professional tests which have been successfully 
applied to Handel, to Mozart, to Beethoven, to Wagner, and 
last, though not least, to me, with the result in every case of 
our condemnation as ignoramuses and charlatans. Why is it 
that when Dr. Blank writes about music, nobody but a pro- 
fessional musician can understand him; whereas the man-in- 
the-street, if fond of art and capable of music, can understand 
the writings of Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt, Berlioz, or any 
of the composers? Why, again, is it that my colleague, W. A., 
for instance, in criticizing Mr. Henry Arthur Jones' play the 
other day, did not parse all the leading sentences in it? I will 
not be so merciless as to answer these questions now, though 
I know the solution, and am capable of giving it if provoked 
beyond endurance. Let it suffice for the moment that writing 
is a very difficult art, criticism a very difficult process, and 
music not easily to be distinguished, without special critical 
training, from the scientific, technical and professional condi- 
tions of its performance, composition and teaching. And if the 
critic is to please the congregation, who wants to read only 
about the music, it is plain that he must appear quite beside 
the point to the organ-blower, who wants to read about his 
bellows, which he can prove to be the true source of all the 
harmony." * 

* Music, in the World, February 18th, 1893. 



257 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 



Mac 


Beth. 


Oth 


Ello. 


Comedy of Er 


Rors. 


Merchant of Ve 


Nice. 


Coriol 


Anus. 


Midsummer Night's D 


Ream. 


Merry Wives of Win 


Dsor. 


Measure for Mea 


Sure. 


Much Ado about Not 


Hing. 


Antony and Cleop 


Atra. 


All's Well that Ends 


Well.* 



*The conclusive cryptographic proof that Bernard Shaw wrote the 
plays usually attributed to Shakespeare — discovered by Mr. S. T. James, 
of Leeds. 






CHAPTER IX 

WHEN the history of the last quarter of the nineteenth 
century comes to be written, it will be seen that the 
name of Bernard Shaw is inextricably linked with five epoch- 
making movements of our contemporary era. The Collectivist 
movement in politics, ethics and sociology; the Ibsen-Nietz- 
schean movement in morals ; the reaction against the material- 
ism of Marx and Darwin; the Wagnerian movement in music; 
and the anti-romantic movement in literature and art — these 
are the main currents of modern thought for which Shaw has 
unfalteringly sought to open a passage into modern con- 
sciousness. 

On the death of Mr. Edmund Yates, the editor of the World, 
in 1894, Shaw gave up his " labour of Hercules " as music 
critic of that paper, and was succeeded by Mr. Robert Hichens. 
By this time Shaw had only one more critical continent to con- 
quer ; but he wanted the right editor, he has told us — " one with 
the virtues of Yates — and some of his faults as well, perhaps." 
On Mr. Frank Harris's revival of the Saturday Review, it was 
matter for no surprise that the author of The Quintessence of 
Ibsenism and of four plays besides, should have been offered the 
post of dramatic critic on that magazine. Shaw did not begin 
his career as an actor, as is sometimes stated; he never was 
on the stage, nor ever dreamt of going on it. He has taken 
part in a copyrighting performance, and once acted at some 
theatricals, got up for the benefit of an old workman member 
of the " International," with Edward Aveling, Eleanor Marx, 
May Morris, and Sidney Pardon, all amateurs; and imper- 
sonated a photographer at William Morris's house at one of 
the soirees of the Socialist League. But there is not the re- 
motest foundation for the statement that he began his career 
as an actor. Although Shaw had written a number of plays, 
he realized that dramatic authorship no more constitutes a 
man a critic than actorship constitutes him a dramatic author ; 

261 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

but he rightly judged that a dramatic critic learns as much 
from having been a dramatic author as Shakespeare or Pinero 
from having been actors. It was his chief distinction to have 
touched life at many points ; unlike many contemporary dra- 
matic critics, he had not specialized to such an extent as to 
lose his character as man and citizen, and become a mere play- 
goer. " My real aim," he asserted in reference to his work on 
the Saturday Review, " is to widen the horizon of the critic, 
especially of the dramatic critic, whose habit at present is to 
bring a large experience of stage life to bear on a scanty 
experience of real life, although it is certain that all really 
fruitful criticism of the drama must bring a wide and prac- 
tical knowledge of real life to bear on the stage." 

Jowett's characterization of Disraeli as " a curious combina- 
tion of the Arch-Priest of Humbug and a great man," has a 
certain appropriateness for Bernard Shaw. That fictitious 
personage known as G. B. S. is Shaw's most remarkable crea- 
tion. With characteristic daring, his very first article broke 
the sacred tradition of anonymity, inviolate till then in the 
conservative columns of the Saturday Review. With the innate 
instinct of the journalist, he devoted himself to sedulous self- 
advertisement, creating a traditionary character unrivalled in 
conceit, in cleverness, and in iconoclastic effrontery. Charged 
with being conceited, he replied : " No, I am not really a con- 
ceited man: if you had been through all that I have been 
through, and done all the things I have done, you would be 
ten times as conceited. It's only a pose, to prevent the Eng- 
lish people from seeing that I am serious. If they did, they 
would make me drink the hemlock." Do not make the mistake 
of concluding, from this confession, that Shaw was merely a 
ghastly little celebrity posing in a vacuum. If " New lamps 
for old " is the cry of this ultra-modern fakir, " Remember 
Aladdin " is the warning of the suspicious populace. Shaw's 
chief claim for consideration is not merely that he has spent 
his life in crying down the futility and uselessness of the old 
lamps, but that with equal earnestness he has advertised the 
merits of the new. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in 
his attitude towards Shakespeare and Ibsen. 

262 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

Shaw's incorrigible practice of " blaming the Bard," pub- 
licly inaugurated in the Saturday Review, is no mere antic in 
which he indulges for the fun of the thing, but as inevitable 
an outcome of his philosophy as is his championship of Ibsen. 
His inability to see a masterpiece in every play of Shake- 
speare's arises largely from the fact that he knows his 
Shakespeare as he knows his Bunyan, his Dickens, his Ibsen. 
It is flying in the face of fact to aver that a man who knew 
his Shakespeare from cover to cover by the time he was twenty 
does not like or admire Shakespeare. " I am fond," says 
Shaw, " unaffectedly fond, of Shakespeare's plays." He looks 
back upon those delightful evenings at the New Shakespeare 
Society, under F. J. Furnival, with the most unfeigned pleas- 
ure. A careful perusal of his score or more articles on Shake- 
speare in the Saturday Review shows that he has not only 
studied Shakespeare consistently, and periodically interpreted 
him from a definite point of view, but that he always fought 
persistently for the performance of his plays in their integ- 
rity. And although he has by no means taken advantage of 
all his opportunities, yet he has managed to see between 
twenty and thirty of Shakespeare's plays performed on the 
stage. 

When Shaw first read Mr. Henry Arthur Jones's words: 
" Surely the crowning glory of our nation is our Shakespeare ; 
and remember he was one of a great school," he almost burst, 
as he put it, with the intensity of his repudiation of the second 
clause in that utterance. Against the first clause he had noth- 
ing to say; but the Elizabethans Shaw has always regarded 
chiefly as " shallow literary persons, drunk with words, and 
seeking in crude stories of lust and crime an excuse for that 
wildest of all excitements, the excitement of imaginative self- 
expression by words." Mr. Shaw once defined an Elizabethan 
as " a man with an extraordinary and imposing power of say- 
ing things, and with nothing whatever to say." Indeed, it was 
not to be expected that the arch-foe of Romance, in modern art 
and modern life, would be edified with the imaginative and 
romantic violence of the Elizabethans. Nothing less than a 
close and, so to speak, biologic study of humanity in the nude 

263 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

can satisfy one who avers that Romance is the root of modern 
pessimism and the bane of modern self-respect. 

To call the Elizabethans imaginative amounted with Shaw 
to the same thing as saying that, artistically, they had de- 
lirium tremens. The true Elizabethan he found to be a 
" blank-verse beast, itching to frighten other people with the 
superstitious terrors and cruelties in which he does not himself 
believe, and wallowing in blood, violence, muscularity of ex; 
pression and strenuous animal passion as only literary men do 
when they become thoroughly depraved by solitary work, 
sedentary cowardice, and starvation of the sympathetic cen- 
tres." He passes them in review, calling them a crew of de- 
humanized specialists in blank verse! Webster, a Tussaud 
laureate; Chapman, with his sublime balderdash; Marlowe, the 
pothouse brawler, with his clumsy horse-play, his butcherly 
rant, and the resourceless tum-tum of his " mighty line." Even 
in this dust-heap, Shaw managed to find some merit and va- 
riety. Was not Greene really amusing, Marston spirited and 
" silly-clever," Cyril Tourneur able to string together lines of 
which any couple picked out and quoted separately might pass 
as a fragment of a real organic poem? Though a brutish 
pedant, Jonson was not heartless; Marlowe often charged his 
blank-verse with genuine colour and romance ; while Beaumont 
and Fletcher, although possessing no depth, no conviction, no 
religious or philosophic basis, were none the less dainty ro- 
mantic poets, and really humorous character-sketchers in 
Shakespeare's popular style. " Unfortunately, Shakespeare 
dropped into the middle of these ruffianly pedants (the Eliza- 
bethans) ; and since there was no other shop than theirs to 
serve his apprenticeship in, he had perforce to become an 
Elizabethan too. 

" In such a school of falsehood, bloody-mindedness, bom- 
bast, and intellectual cheapness, his natural standard was in- 
evitably dragged down, as we know to our cost ; but the degree 
to which he dragged their standard up has saved them from 
oblivion." Indeed, Shakespeare, enthused by his interest in the 
art of acting and by his desire to " educate the public," tried 
to make that public accept genuine studies of life and character 

264 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

in, for instance, Measure for Measure and AIVs Well that Ends 
Well, But the public would have none of them (traditionary 
evidence, be it noted), "preferring a fantastic sugar doll like 
Rosalind to such serious and dignified studies of women as 
Isabella and Helena." 

Shakespeare had discovered that " the only thing that paid 
in the theatre was romantic nonsense, and that when he was 
forced by this to produce one of the most effective samples of 
romantic nonsense in existence — a feat which he performed 
easily and well — he publicly disclaimed any responsibility for 
its pleasant and cheap falsehood by borrowing the story and 
throwing it in the face of the public with the phrase ' As You 
Like It. 9 " Despite Mr. Chesterton's assertion that Shaw has 
read an ironic snub into the title, and that after all it was only 
a sort of hilarious bosh, Shaw still maintains, as he did fifteen 
years ago, that when Shakespeare used that phrase he meant 
exactly what he said, and that the phrase : " What You Will," 
which he applied to Twelfth Night, meaning " Call it what you 
please," is not, in Shakespearean or any other English, the 
equivalent of the perfectly unambiguous and penetratingly sim- 
ple phrase : " As You Like It." 

Shakespeare's popularity, Shaw would have us believe, was 
due to a deliberate pandering to the public taste for " romantic 
nonsense." Shaw holds that Shakespeare's supreme power lies 
in his " enormous command of word-music, which gives fascina- 
tion to his most blackguardly repartees and sublimity to his 
hollowest platitudes, besides raising to the highest force all 
his gifts as an observer, an imitator of personal mannerisms 
and characteristics, a humorist and a story-teller." No mat- 
ter how poor, coarse, cheap and obvious may be the thought 
in Much Ado about Nothing, for example, the mood is charm- 
ing and the music of the words expresses the mood, transporting 
you into another, an enchanted world. 

" When a flower-girl tells a coster to hold his j aw, for 
nobody is listening to him, and he retorts : 4 Oh, you're there, 
are you, you beauty ? ' they reproduce the wit of Beatrice and 
Benedick exactly. But put it this way : ' I wonder that you 
will still be talking, Signor Benedick: nobody marks you.' 

265 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

< What ! my dear Lady Disdain, are you yet living? ' You are 
miles away from costerland at once." In other words, Shaw 
insists that a nightingale's love is no higher than a cat's, except 
that the nightingale is the better musician! 

" It is not easy to knock this into the public head, be- 
cause comparatively few of Shakespeare's admirers are 
at all conscious that they are listening to music as they 
hear his phrases turn and his lines fall so fascinatingly 
and memorably; whilst we all, no matter how stupid we 
are, can understand his jokes and platitudes, and are 
flattered when we are told of the subtlety of the wit we 
have relished, and the profundity of the thought we have 
fathomed. Englishmen are specially susceptible to this 
sort of flattery, because intellectual subtlety is not their 
strong point. In dealing with them you must make them 
believe that you are appealing to their brains, when you 
are really appealing to their senses and feelings. With 
Frenchmen the case is reversed: you must make them be- 
lieve that you are appealing to their senses and feelings 
when you are really appealing to their brains. The Eng- 
lishman, slave to every sentimental ideal and dupe of every 
sensuous art, will have it that his great national poet is 
a thinker. The Frenchman, enslaved and duped only by 
systems and calculations, insists on his hero being a senti- 
mentalist and artist. That is why Shakespeare is esteemed 
a master-mind in England, and wondered at as a clumsy 
barbarian in France." * 

Shaw is as far from Taine on the one side as he is from 
Swinburne on the other — " as far this side bardolatry as John- 
son or Mr. Frank Harris." To the idolatrous and insensate 
worship of Shakespeare which got on Ben Jonson's nerves, 
which Lamb brought back into fashion, and which has gone 
to blasphemy and sacrilege in the mouth of Swinburne, Shaw, 
like Byron before him, declined to subscribe. And for the very 

* Shakespeare's * Merry Gentlemen/ in the Saturday Review, February 
26th, 1898. 

266 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

good reason that, being primarily an ideologue, he has ex- 
amined Shakespeare as a man of thought only to find him 
wanting. Lop away all beauty of form, all grace of mood — 
in a word, reduce Shakespeare to his lowest terms — and what 
is the result? Paraphrase the encounters of Benedick and 
Beatrice in the style of a Blue-book, carefully preserving every 
idea they present, and it immediately becomes apparent to 
Shaw that they contain at best nothing out of the common 
in thought or wit, and at worst a good deal of vulgar naughti- 
ness. Paraphrasing Goethe, Wagner, or Ibsen in the same way, 
he finds in them original observation, subtle thought, wide 
comprehension, far-reaching intuition and psychological study. 
Even if you paraphrase Shakespeare's best and maturest work, 
you will still get nothing more, Shaw avers, than the platitudes 
of proverbial philosophy, with a very occasional curiosity in 
the shape of a rudiment of some modern idea, not followed up. 
" Once or twice we scent among them an anticipation of the 
crudest side of Ibsen's polemics on the Woman Question, as in 
AIVs Well that Ends Well, when the man cuts as meanly selfish 
a figure beside his enlightened lady-doctor wife as Helmer be- 
side Nora; or in Cymbeline, where Posthumus, having, as he 
believes, killed his wife for inconstancy, speculates for a mo- 
ment on what his life would have been worth if the same stand- 
ard of continence had been applied to himself. And certainly 
no modern study of the voluptuous temperament, and the 
spurious heroism and heroinism which its ecstasies produce, can 
add much to Antony and Cleopatra" 

Last of all, Shaw goes a step further with the declaration 
that Shakespeare's weakness lies in his complete deficiency in 
that highest sphere of thought, in which poetry embraces reli- 
gion, philosophy, morality, and the bearing of these on com- 
munities, which is sociology. " Search for statesmanship, or 
even citizenship, or any sense of the Commonwealth, material 
or spiritual, and you will not find the making of a decent 
vestryman or curate in the whole horde. As to faith, hope, 
courage, conviction, or any of the true heroic qualities, you 
find nothing but death made sensational, despair made stage- 
sublime, sex made romantic, and barrenness covered up by sen- 

267 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

timentality and the mechanical lilt of blank-verse." All the 
truly heroic which came so naturally to Bunyan is missing in 
Shakespeare. In the words of Whitman, Shaw regards Shake- 
speare as " the aesthetic-heroic among poets, lacking both in 
the democratic and spiritual," but never as " the heroic-heroic, 
which is the greatest development of the spirit." In Shaw's 
eyes, Shakespeare's " test of the worth of life is the vulgar 
hedonic test, and since life cannot be justified by this or any 
other external test, Shakespeare comes out of his reflective 
period a vulgar pessimist, oppressed with a logical demonstra- 
tion that life is not worth living, and only surpassing Thack- 
eray in respect of being fertile enough, instead of repeating 
' Vanitas vanitatum ' at second-hand, to word the futile doc- 
trine differently and better. . . . This does not mean that 
Shakespeare lacked the enormous fund of joyousness which is 
the secret of genius, but simply that, like most middle-class 
Englishmen bred in private houses, he was a very incompetent 
thinker, and took it for granted that all inquiry into life began 
and ended with the question : ' Does it pay ? ' . . . Having 
worked out his balance-sheet and gravely concluded that life's 
but a poor player, etc., and thereby deeply impressed a pub- 
lic which, after a due consumption of beer and spirits, is ready 
to believe that everything maudlin is tragic, and everything 
senseless sublime, Shakespeare found himself laughing and writ- 
ing plays and getting drunk at the s Mermaid ' much as usual, 
with Ben Jonson finding it necessary to reprove him for a too 
extravagant sense of humour." Like Ernest Crosby, Shaw 
regards Shakespeare as the poet of courts, of lords and ladies. 
His fundamental assent is accorded to Tolstoy in his declara- 
tion that Shakespeare's quintessential deficiency was his failure 
to face, fairly and squarely, the eternal question of life: 
" What are we alive for ? " * 

It is a task of the merest supererogation to go into the de- 
tails of Shaw's admiration of Shakespeare's plays, to quote his 
praise of Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream as 

* Concerning Shaw's general attitude towards Shakespeare, compare the 
Letter from Mr. G. Bernard Shaw appended to Tolstoy on Shakespeare. 
Funk and Wagnalls Co., 1906. 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

" crown jewels of dramatic poetry " ; of Romeo and Juliet with 
its " lines that tighten the heart or catch you up into the 
heights " ; of Richard III., as the best of all the " Punch and 
Judy " plays, in which the hero delights man by provoking 
God, and dies unrepentant and game to the last; of Julius 
Caesar, in which the " dramatist's art can be carried no higher 
on the plane chosen " ; of Othello, which " remains magnificent 
by the volume of its passion and the splendour of its word- 
music " ; of the " great achievement " of Hamlet; and of Mac- 
beth, than which " no greater tragedy will ever be written." 
Not only is Shaw unaffectedly fond of Shakespeare: he pities 
the man who cannot enjoy him: 

" He has outlived hundreds of abler thinkers, and will 
outlast a thousand more. His gift of telling a story 
(provided someone else told it to him first) ; his enormous 
power over language, as conspicuous in his senseless and 
silly abuse of it as in his miracles of expression; his hu- 
mour ; his sense of idiosyncratic character ; and his pro- 
digious fund of that vital energy which is, it seems, the 
true differentiating property behind the faculties, good, 
bad, or indifferent, of the man of genius, enable him to 
entertain us so effectively that the imaginary scenes and 
people he has created become more real to us than our 
actual life — at least, until our knowledge and grip of 
actual life begins to deepen and glow beyond the com- 
mon. When I was twenty I knew everybody in Shake- 
speare, from Hamlet to Abhorson, much more intimately 
than I knew my living contemporaries." * 

The literary side of the mission of Ibsen in England, as 
Shaw conceived it, was the rescue of that unhappy country 
from its centuries of slavery to Shakespeare. The moral side 
of Ibsen's mission was the breaking of the shackles of slavery 
to conventional ideals of virtue. And Shaw's iconoclastic cry 
in the Saturday Review was " Down with Shakespeare. Great 

* Blaming the Bard, in the Saturday Review, September 26th, 1896. 

269 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

is Ibsen ; and Shaw is his prophet." * Interrogated in 1892 
as to whether Shakespeare was not his model in writing Widow- 
ers' Houses, Shaw replied with quizzical disdain : " Shakespeare ! 
stuff! Shakespeare — a disillusioned idealist! a rationalist! a 
capitalist! If the fellow had not been a great poet, his rub- 
bish would have been forgotten long ago. Moliere, as a 
thinker, was worth a thousand Shakespeares. If my play is 
not better than Shakespeare, let it be damned promptly." And 
in reviewing his work as a dramatic critic, he said : " After 
all, I have accomplished something. I have made Shakespeare 
popular by knocking him off his pedestal and kicking him round 
the place, and making people realize that he's not a demi-god, 
but a dramatist." t When he came to judge the works of the 
two dramatists by the tests of intellectual force and dramatic 
insight, quite apart from beauty of expression, he found that 
" Ibsen comes out with a double first-class, whereas Shake- 
speare comes out hardly anywhere." Shaw recognized only 
the splendour of Shakespeare's literary gift ; whereas, in Ibsen, 
he hailed the very antithesis of Shakespeare, i.e., a thinker of 
extraordinary penetration, a moralist of international influ- 
ence, and a philosopher going to the root of those very ques- 
tions to the solution of which Shaw's own life has been largely 

* As Mr. Will Irwin has it in his Crankidoxology : Being a Mental Atti- 
tude from Bernard Pshaw: 

I'm bored by mere Shakespere and Milton, 
Tho' Hubbard compels me to rave; 

If 7 should lay laurels to wilt on 
That foggy Shakesperean grave, 
How William would squirm in his grave! 

f One day at a reception at the Playgoers' Club, in London, Mr. Osmon 
Edwards delivered an address on " The superiority of Shaw to Shake- 
speare." He showed that Shakespeare was a bad dramatist, because he 
was a great poet; he asserted that his humour was vulgar and his tragedy 
puerile; and he endeavoured to prove that Shaw was far superior to 
Shakespeare in his realism, in his critical sense of life, in the depth of his 
thought, in his stage technique. 

At this point, Shaw himself, who was among the audience, rose to his 
feet and begged to say a few words in favour of his famous rival. What 
a delicious situation — and one not unworthy of Bernard Shaw! 

Compare The English Stage of To-Day, by Mario Borsa, pp. 152-3. John 
Lane, London and New York, 1908. 

270 





ALL"™= worlds a stage -Society 



^ 



s 



E. T. Reed.-] 



I 

[Courtesy of the Ar/ist. 



JOHN BULL'S OTHER PLAYWRIGHT. 



A new design for a statue in Leicester Square. Reproduced by the special peimission 
of the proprietors of Punch. 



[Facing p. 268 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

devoted. In the dramas of Ibsen, he found epitomized the 
modern realistic struggle for intellectual and spiritual emanci- 
pation, the revolt against the machine-made morality of our 
sordid, flabby, and hypocritical age. Shaw had begun his ca- 
reer in the strife a.xd turmoil of the Zetetical and Dialectical 
Societies, debating the questions of Women's Rights, Emanci- 
pation, and Married Women's Property Acts. Before he had 
ever read a line of Ibsen or heard of A Doll's House, he had 
already reached the conclusion, always consistently maintained 
by him, that Man is not a species superior to Woman, but 
that mankind is male and female, like other kinds, and that 
the inequality of the sexes is literally nothing more than a 
cock-and-bull story, invented by the " lords of creation " for 
supremely selfish motives. When Ibsen wrote Ghosts, his name 
was unknown to Shaw. But it is undeniable that, in the 
eighties, Shaw was forging towards precisely similar conclu- 
sions. He had felt in his inmost being the loathing of the 
nineteenth century for itself, and had marked with exultation 
the ferocity with which Schopenhauer and Shelley, Lassalle 
and Karl Marx, Ruskin and Carlyle, Morris and Wagner had 
rent the bosom that bore them. Smouldering within his own 
breast was that same detestation of all the orthodoxies, and 
respectabilities, and ideals railed at by these political, social 
and moral anarchs. Fired by their inspiring example, he had 
espoused the cause of Socialism, and zealously fought the bat- 
tle for equality of opportunity, for social justice, for woman's 
freedom, for liberty of thought, of action, and of conscience. 
His conscious revolt against a sentimental, theatrical and sense- 
lessly romantic age, chivalrously and blindly " holding aloft 
the banner of the ideal," preceded his acquaintance with The 
Pillars of Society and The Wild Duck. A Fabian, almost uni- 
versally regarded in England as a crack-brained fanatic and 
doctrinaire, he found years afterwards in An Enemy of the 
People the final expression of his experience that all human 
progress involves as its fundamental condition a recognition 
by the pioneer that to be right is to be in the minority. The 
very keynote of Shaw's own convictions was struck in Ibsen's 
declaration that the really effective progressive forces of the 

27i 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

moment were the revolt of the working-classes against eco- 
nomic, and of the women against idealistic, slavery. 

During the entire period of his career as a dramatic critic, 
Shaw stood forth as an unabashed champion of Ibsen. For 
many years prior to this period, he had borne the odium of 
Philistine objurgation; never, even in the blackest hour of 
British intolerance and insult, did he once flinch from adher- 
ence to the Wizard of the North. Much that he wrote in the 
Saturday Review concerning Ibsen and his plays, he had al- 
ready said — and said better — in The Quintessence of Ibsenism, 
written in the spring of 1890.* Still, the articles in the 
Saturday Review completed Shaw's analysis of Ibsenism, as 
exhibited in the remaining plays of Ibsen published after 1890 ; 
and, in addition, they possessed the advantage of being criti- 
cisms of the acted dramas themselves. The brilliant brochure, 
entitled The Quintessence of Ibsenism, contains the heart of 
Shaw's Ibsen criticism, and is undoubtedly the most notable 
tour de force its author has ever achieved in any line. It is a 
distinct contribution to that fertile field of modern philosophy 
farcically and superficially imaged by Gilbert, mordantly 

* Cf. preface to The Quintessence of Ibsenism, for its history and the 
causes which led to its publication. In July, 1890, Mr. Shaw read his Quin- 
tessence of Ibsenism in its original form, a study of the socialistic aspect 
of Ibsen's writings, before the Fabian Society. It is interesting to record 
what appears to be a reference to this lecture, made by Henrik Ibsen. In 
a letter to Hans Lien Braekstad {Letters of Henrik Ibsen, translated by 
John Nilsen Laurvik and Mary Morison, pp. 430-1), a Norwegian-English 
man of letters (since 1887 resident in London), who has done much for 
the spread of Norwegian and Danish literature in England, Ibsen wrote 
from Munich, August, 1890, referring to a garbled report of a newspaper 
interview with him: 

" What I really said was that I was surprised that I, who had made it 
my chief life-task to depict human character and human doctrines, should, 
without conscious or direct intention, have arrived in several matters at 
the same conclusions as the social-democratic philosophers had arrived at 
by scientific processes. 

"What led me to express this surprise (and, I may here add, satisfac- 
tion), was a statement made by the correspondent to the effect that one 
or more lectures had lately been given in London, dealing, according to 
him, chiefly with A Doll's House." 

The latter statement appears to be in error; although the correspondent 
may possibly have had in mind some lectures, delivered by Eleanor Marx, 
I believe, on A Doll's House. 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

dramatized by Ibsen, and rhapsodically concretized by 
Nietzsche. Let us disabuse our minds at once of the idea that 
this book is either mere literary criticism or a supernally clever 
jeu d'esprit. Not a critical essay on the poetical beauties of 
Ibsen, but simply an exposition of Ibsenism, it may be described 
as an ideological distillation of Ibsen in the role of ethical and 
moral critic of contemporary civilization. To call The Quin- 
tessence of Ibsenism one-sided is not simply a futile condemna- 
tion: it is a perfectly obvious truth. 

To Ibsen, according to Shaw, the pioneer of civilization is 
the man or woman bold enough to seek the fulfilment of the 
individual will, hardy enough to prefer the naked facts of life 
to the comforting illusions of the imagination. Society is com- 
posed, in the main, of Philistines who accept the established 
social order without demur or misgiving; and of a few Ideal- 
ists, temperamentally dissatisfied with their lot, yet seeking 
refuge from the spectacle of their own failure in an imaginary 
world of romantic ideals, and in the self-delusion that to see 
the world thus is noble and spiritual, whilst to see it as it is 
is vulgar, brutal and cynical. But sometimes there arises the 
solitary pioneer, the realist, if you will — a Blake, a Shelley, a 
Bashkirtseff, a Shaw — who dares to face the truth the idealists 
are shirking, to chip off the masks of romance and idealism, 
and to say fearlessly that life needs no justification and sub- 
mits to no test; that it must be lived for its own sake as an 
end in itself, and that all institutions, all ideals, and all ro- 
mances must be brought to its test and stand or fall by their 
furtherance of and loyalty to it. 

Thus to Ibsen : " The Ideal is dead ; long live the ideal ! " 
epitomizes the history of human progress. Brand, the heroic 
idealist, daring to live largely, to will unreservedly, fails be- 
cause of his inability to realize the unattainability of his ideals 
in this present life. As Cervantes in Don Quixote reduced the 
old ideal of chivalry to absurdity, so Ibsen in Peer Gynt re- 
duces to absurdity the ideal of self-realization when it takes 
the form of self-gratification unhampered by sense of responsi- 
bility. Shaw found it unnecessary to translate the scheme of 
Emperor and Galilean in terms of the antithesis between ideal- 

27S 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ism and realism, since Julian, in this respect, is only a re- 
incarnation of Peer Gynt. After constructing imaginative 
projections of himself in Brand, Peer Gynt and Julian, Ibsen 
next turns to the real life around him, to the creatures of tons 
les jours, to continue his detailed attack upon idealism. In 
The Pillars of Society, the Rorlund ideals go down before the 
realities of truth and freedom; in A DolVs House, Helmer's 
unstable card-house of ideals falls to the ground; and in 
Ghosts, Mrs. Alving offers herself up as a living sacrifice on 
the altar of the ideal, only to discover the futility of the sacri- 
fice. An Enemy of the People exposes the fallacy of the ma- 
jority ideal, and posits the striking doctrine that to be right 
is to be in the minority. The Wild Duck appears as a whole- 
sale condemnation of the ideal of truth for truth's &ake alone. 
Rosmersholm embodies Rebekka's tragic protest against the 
Rosmersholm ideal " that denied her right to live and be happy 
from the first, and at the end, even in denying its God, exacts 
her life as a vain blood-offering for its own blindness." The 
Lady from the Sea presents a fanciful image of the triumph 
of responsible freedom over romantic idealism grounded in un- 
happiness, while in Hedda Gabler the woman rises from life's 
feast because she has neither the vision for ideals nor the pas- 
sion for reality — " a pure sceptic, a typical nineteenth-century 
figure, falling into the abyss between the ideals which do not 
impose on her and the realities which she has not yet 
discovered." 

It is needless to follow Shaw's analysis of Ibsenism further, 
although it might readily be applied to Ibsen's remaining 
plays. Suffice it to say, that Shaw nowhere denies that Ibsen 
is an idealist, or that ideals are indispensable to human prog- 
ress. He has been forced to call Ibsen a realist; in fact, al- 
most to invent new terms, a new phraseology, in order to dis- 
tinguish between the ideals which have become pernicious 
through senescence, and the ideals which remain valid through 
conformity to reality. Out of Ibsen's very longing for the 
ideal grew that mood of ideal suspiciousness which Brandes, 
like Shaw, affirmed to be one of his dominant characteristics. 
Ibsen opposes current political and moral values, strong in the 

274 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

conviction that every end should be challenged to justify the 
means. Acceptance of Ibsen's philosophy to will greatly, to 
dare nobly, to be always prepared to violate the code of con- 
ventional morality, to find fulfilment of the will as much in 
voluntary submission to reality as in affirmation of life the 
eternal — must at once, Shaw rightly indicates, greatly deepen 
the sense of moral responsibility. " What Ibsen insists on is 
that there is no golden rule — that conduct must justify itself 
by its effect upon happiness and not by its conformity to any 
rule or ideal." * 

Shaw's analysis of Ibsenism holds out a large, sane, tolerant 
standard of life as the inevitable lesson of Ibsen's plays. Lies, 
pretences, and hypocrisies avail not against the strong man, 
fortified in the resolution to find himself, to attain self-realiza- 
tion, through fulfilment of the will. However much one may 
regret that Shaw, by preserving his postulate/, in concrete terms, 
has to some extent diverted our attention from the whole 
formidable significance of the Ibsenic drama, it is idle to deny 
that the book is at once caustically powerful and unflaggingly 
brilliant. Certainly Shaw has seen Ibsen clearly, even if he has 
not seen him whole. Ibsen cannot be summed up in a thesis; 
the curve of his art, as Mr. Huneker says, reaches across the 
edge of the human soul. " The quintessence of Ibsenism is that 
there is no formula " — this is Shaw's last assurance to us that 
he has not reduced Ibsen to a formula. It is impossible for 
anyone, with greater assurance, to assure us that there is noth- 
ing assured. 

Comprehension of Shaw's attitude towards Shakespeare and 
Ibsen is a prerequisite to an accurate judgment of his attitude 
towards dramatic art in general, and, more particularly, to- 
wards the contemporary British stage. Beneath all his criti- 
cism lay the belief that the theatre of to-day is as important 
an institution as the Church was in the Middle Ages. " The 
apostolic succession from Eschylus to myself," he recently said, 
in speaking of his Saturday Review period, " is as serious and as 

* This seems to me a very superficial judgment, and one which Shaw 
himself would doubtless repudiate to-day. How thoroughly inappropriate 
and erroneous is the use of the word " happiness " in this connection ! 

275 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

continuously inspired as that younger institution, the apostolic 
succession of the Christian Church. Unfortunately this Chris- 
tian Church, founded gaily with a pun, has been so largely 
corrupted by rank Satanism that it has become the Church 
where you must not laugh ; and so it is giving way to that older 
and greater Church to which I belong: the Church where the 
oftener you laugh the better, because by laughter only can you 
destroy evil without malice, and affirm good-fellowship without 
mawkishness. When I wrote, I was well aware of what an 
unofficial census of Sunday worshippers presently proved, that 
church-going in London has been largely replaced by play- 
going. This would be a very good thing if the theatre took 
itself seriously as a factory of thought, a prompter of con- 
science, an elucidator of social conduct, an armoury against 
despair and dullness, and a temple of the Ascent of Man. I 
took it seriously in that way, and preached about it instead of 
merely chronicling its news and alternately petting and snub- 
bing it as a licentious but privileged form of public entertain- 
ment. And this, I believe, is why my sermons gave so little 
offence, and created so much interest." * Although plays have 
neither political constitutions nor established churches, they 
must all, if they are to be anything more than the merest tissue 
of stage effects, have a philosophy even if it be no more than 
an unconscious expression of the author's temperament. Just 
as nowadays all the philosophers maintain intimate relations 
with the fine arts, so conversely the great dramatists have at 
all times maintained intimate relations with philosophy. Wil- 
liam Archer used often to tell Shaw that he (Shaw) had no 
real love of art, no enjoyment of it, only a faculty for observ- 
ing performances, and an interest in the intellectual tendency 
of plays. One may retort in Shaw's own words : " In all the 
life that has energy enough to be interesting to me, subjective 
volition, passion, will, make intellect the merest tool." It is 
significant of much that, to Shaw, the play is not the thing, 
but its thought, its purpose, its feeling, its execution. Indeed, 
he regarded the theatre as a response to our need for a 

* The Author's Apology — preface to the first English edition of Dramatic 
Opinions and Essays, by Bernard Shaw. 

276 




Jessie HoUiday.~\ 








[CoM/'tes^ 0/ ffte Artist. 



WILLIAM ARCHER. 
From the original pencil sketch. 



[Facing p. 274 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

" sensable expression of our ideals and illusions and approvals 
and resentments." In comparing the dramatic standards of 
Archer and himself, Shaw exhibits a passion for feeling little 
suspected by his critics : " Every element, even though it be 
an element of artistic force, which interferes with the credibility 
of the scene, wounds him, and is so much to the bad. To him 
acting, like scene-painting, is merely a means to an end, that 
end being to enable him to make-believe. To me the play is 
only the means, the end being the expression of feeling by the 
arts of the actor, the poet, the musician. Anything that makes 
this impression more vivid, whether it be versification, or an 
orchestra, or a deliberately artificial rendition of the lines, is 
so much to the good for me, even though it may destroy all the 
verisimilitude of the scene." 

In a review of the London dramatic season of 1904-5 Mr. 
Walkley made the following characterization of Shaw : 

" After all, we must recall this truth : the primordial func- 
tion of the artist — whatever his means of artistic expression — 
is to be a purveyor of pleasure, and the man who can give 
us a refined intellectual pleasure, or a pleasure of moral na- 
ture or of social sympathy, or else a pleasure which arises 
from being given an unexpected or wider outlook upon life — 
this man imparts to us a series of delicate and moving sensa- 
tions which the spectacle simply of technical address, of the- 
atrical talent, can never inspire. And this man is no other than 
Bernard Shaw." * 

In conversation with me, Shaw vehemently repudiated the 
notion that he was anything so petty as a mere purveyor of 
pleasure. " The theatre cannot give pleasure," he went so far 
as to say. " It defeats its very purpose if it does not take you 
outside of yourself. It may sometimes — and, indeed, often 
does — give one sensations which are far from pleasant, which 
may even be, in the last degree, horrifying and terrible. The 
function of the theatre is to stir people, to make them think, 
to make them suffer. 

" Why, I have seen people stagger out of the Court Theatre 

*L§ Temps, August 28th, 1905. 

277 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

after seeing one of my plays," he said, laughing, " unspeak- 
ably indignant with me because I had made them think, had 
stirred them to opposition, and had made them heartily 
ashamed of themselves." 

In regard to comedy, the field in which he peculiarly excels, 
Shaw is equally positive in the statement that unless comedy 
touches as well as amuses him, he is defrauded of his just due. 
" When a comedy of mine is performed, it is nothing to me that 
the spectators laugh — any fool can make an audience laugh. 
I want to see how many of them, laughing or grave, have tears 
in their eyes." More than once he has insisted that people's 
ideas, however useful they may be for embroidery, especially 
in passages of comedy, are not the true stuff of drama, which 
is always " the naive feeling underlying the ideas." When Mr. 
Meredith said, in his Essay on Comedy, " The English public 
have the basis of the comic in them: an esteem for common 
sense," the remark aroused Mr. Shaw's most vigorous opposi- 
tion. The intellectual virtuosity of the Frenchman, the Irish- 
man, the American, the ancient Greek, leading to a love of 
intellectual mastery of things, Shaw acutely observes, " pro- 
duces a positive enjoyment of disillusion (the most dreaded 
and hated of calamities in England), and consequently a love 
of comedy (the fine art of disillusion) deep enough to make 
huge sacrifices of dearly idealized institutions to it. Thus, 
in France, Moliere was allowed to destroy the Marquises. In 
England he could not have shaken even such titles as the acci- 
dental sheriff's knighthood of the late Sir Augustus Harris." 
Shaw had realized to his own misfortune that the Englishman's 
so-called " common sense " always involves a self-satisfied un- 
consciousness of its own moral and intellectual bluntness, 
whereas the function of comedy — in particular the comedies 
written by Shaw himself — is " to dispel such unconsciousness 
by turning the searchlight of the keenest moral and intellectual 
analysis right on it." The following paragraph embodies 
Shaw's rather limited conception of comedy: 

" The function of comedy is nothing less than the de- 
struction of old-established morals. Unfortunately, to- 

278 



I 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

day such iconoclasm can be tolerated by our play-going 
citizens only as a counsel of despair and pessimism. They 
can find a dreadful joy in it when it is done seriously, or 
even grimly and terribly as they understand Ibsen to be 
doing it; but that it should be done with levity, with 
silvery laughter like the crackling of thorns under a pot, 
is too scandalously wicked, too cynical, too heartlessly 
shocking to be borne. Consequently, our plays must 
either be exploitations of old-established morals or tragic 
challengings of the order of Nature. Reductions to ab- 
surdity, however logical ; banterings, however kind ; irony, 
however delicate; merriment, however silvery, are out of 
the question in matters of morality, except among men 
with a natural appetite for comedy which must be satisfied 
at all costs and hazards: that is to say, not among 
the English play-going public^ which positively dislikes 
comedy." * 

It is perfectly apparent that it was Shaw's distinction — a 
notorious distinction — to be the leading and almost unique 
representative of a school which was in violent reaction against 
that of Pinero, generally regarded as the premier British 
dramatist. Moreover, he lacked the sympathy of his colleagues 
in dramatic criticism — Clement Scott, the impassioned cham- 
pion of British sentimentality and ready-made morals, William 
Archer, the austere patron of young England in the drama, 
and Walkley, the Gallic impressionist and dilettante. Shaw 
endured the virulent attacks of Clement Scott with equanimity, 
if not with positive enjoyment. By his friend Walkley he was 
taunted, under the classic name of Euthrypho, with being an 
impossibilist : " Euthrypho hardly falls into Mr. Grant Allen's 
category of ' serious intellects,' for none has ever known him 
to be serious, but about his intellect there is, as the Grand In- 
quisitor says: 

" * No probable possible shadow of doubt, 
No possible doubt whatever.' 

A universal genius, a brilliant political economist, a Fabian 

* Meredith on Comedy, in the Saturday Review, March 27th, 1897. 

279 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of the straitest sect of the Fabians, a critic (of other arts than 
the dramatic) comme il y en a peu, he persists, where the stage 
is concerned, in crying for the moon, and will not be satisfied, 
as the rest of us have learned to be, with the only attainable 
substitute, a good wholesome cheese. His standard is as much 
too high as Crito's (another critic) is too low. He asks from 
the theatre more than the theatre can give, and quarrels with 
the theatre because it is theatrical. He lumps La Tosca and A 
Man's Shadow together as ' French machine-made plays,' and, 
because he is not edified by them, refuses to be merely amused. 
Because The Dead Heart is not on the level of a Greek trag- 
edy, he is blind to its merits as a pantomime. He refuses to 
recognize the advance made by Mr. Pinero because Mr. Pinero 
has not yet advanced as far as Henrik Ibsen. Half a loaf, the 
wise agree, is better than no bread ; but because it is only half 
a loaf, Euthrypho complains that they have given him a 
stone." * Worse than all, Mr. Archer vigorously charged him 
with the most aggressive hostility towards the contemporary 
movement in British drama. In one of his Study and Stage 
articles, entitled Mr. Shaw and Mr. Pinero, and published Au- 
gust 22d, 1903, Mr. Archer thus condemns Shaw as a dramatic 
critic : " Just at the time when the English drama began clearly 
to emerge from the puerility into which it had sunk between 
the 'fifties and the 'eighties, Mr. Shaw was engaged, week by 
week, in producing dramatic criticisms. Writing for a six- 
penny paper, he had but a limited audience; and, therefore, 
even his wit, energy and unique literary power (I use the 
epithet deliberately) could do little to influence the course of 
events. But all that he could do he did, to discredit, crush 
and stamp out the new movement. Had he been a power at 
all he would have been a power for evil. There were moments 
during that period when I sympathized, as never before or 
since, with the Terrorists of exactly a century ago. I felt 
that when a new and struggling order of things is persistently 
assailed with inveterate and inhuman hostility, it is no wonder 
if it defends itself with equal relentlessness. If a guillotine had 

* Playhouse Impressions, article The Dramatic Critic as Pariah, pp. 5-6. 

280 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

been functioning in Trafalgar Square — but do not let us dwell 
on the horrid fantasy. Those days are over. ' We have 
marched prospering, not through his presence.' There is still 
a long fight to be fought before the English theatre becomes 
anything like the great social institution it ought to be; but 
even if the movement were now to stop dead (and of that there 
is not the slightest fear), nothing can alter the fact that the 
past ten years have given us a new and by no means despicable 
dramatic literature." 

These severe characterizations by the two leading English 
dramatic critics deserve more than casual notice. Shaw repre- 
sented Vecole du plein air; his unpardonable crime consisted in 
daringly throwing open the windows to let in a fresh and vivi- 
fying current of ideas. With Shaw, to dramatize was to 
philosophize; moreover, he sought to discredit the tradition 
that the drama is never the forerunner, but always the laggard, 
in interpretation of the Zeitgeist. Far from being the insti- 
gator of the crimes and the partner of the guilty joys of the 
drama, he regarded himself as the policeman of dramatic art; 
and avowed it his express business to denounce its delinquencies. 
Firm in the faith that the radicalism of yesterday is the con- 
servatism of to-morrow, he boldly declared : f 6 It is an instinct 
with me personally to attack every idea which has been full 
grown for ten years, especially if it claims to be the foundation 
of all human society. I am prepared to back human societ3 T 
against any idea, positive or negative, that can be brought into 
the field against it. In this — except as to my definite intel- 
lectual consciousness of it — I am, I believe, a much more 
typical and popular person in England than the conventional 
man; and I believe that when we begin to produce a genuine 
national drama, this apparently anarchic force, the mother of 
higher law and humaner order, will underlie it, and that the 
public will lose all patience with the conventional collapses 
which serve for the last acts to the serious dramas of to-day." 
He found the contemporary English drama lamentably " dat- 
ing " in ethics and philosophy ; their daily observation kept 
the English dramatists up-to-date in personal descriptions, but 
there was " nothing to force them to revise the morality they 

281 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

inherited from their grandmothers." But Shaw's high and un- 
compromising ideal for British drama was no justification for 
Mr. Archer's charge that Shaw as a dramatic critic was only 
a paralyzing and sterilizing force. " There is more talent now 
than ever," wrote Shaw in December, 1895, to take a single 
example, " more skill now than ever, more artistic culture, 
better taste, better acting, better theatres, better dramatic 
literature. Mr. Tree, Mr. Alexander, Mr. Hare have made 
honourable experiments, Mr. Forbes Robertson's enterprise at 
the Lyceum is not a sordid one; Mr. Henry Arthur Jones and 
Mr. Pinero are doing better work than ever before, and doing 
it without any craven concession to the follies of the British 
public." 

We may, perhaps, best arrive at a notion of Shaw's relation 
to the British stage by discovering his attitude towards his 
colleagues in the drama — say Pinero, Jones, Wilde, Grundy, 
Stevenson and Henley. Pinero he resolutely refused, in the 
face of popular clamour, to laud as the " English Ibsen." He 
regarded Pinero as an adroit describer of people as the ordi- 
nary man sees and judges them, but not as a genuine in- 
terpreter of character. " Add to this a clear head, a love of 
the stage, and a fair talent for fiction, all highly cultivated by 
hard and honourable work as a writer of effective stage plays 
for the modern commercial theatre; and you have him on his 
real level." The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, hailed as the great- 
est tragedy of the modern English school, Shaw regarded as 
not only a stage play in the most technical sense, but even a 
noticeably old-fashioned one in its sentiment and stage- 
mechanism; he objected to it on another ground — and quite 
unreasonably, I think — because it exhibited, not the sexual 
relations between the principals, but the social reactions set up 
by this amazing marriage. Shaw was utterly revolted by 
Pinero's coarseness and unspeakable ignorance in the por- 
trayal of the feminine social agitation in The Notorious Mrs. 
Ebbsmith; the noble work of such women as Annie Besant, 
who had worked at Shaw's side for many years, gave the direct 
lie to Pinero's characterization. " I once pointed out a method 
of treatment which might have made The Notorious Mrs. Ebb- 

282 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

smith bearable," Mr. Shaw recently remarked to me. " Now 
I am of the opinion that nothing could have made it a good 
play." Shaw had a vast contempt for Pinero as a moralist 
and a social philosopher. " Archer objected to me as a critic," 
he once remarked to me, " because I didn't like The Profligate 
and The Second Mrs. Tanqueray." But Shaw sincerely ad- 
mired the Pinero of The Benefit of the Doubt and The Hobby 
Horse t notable as they were for high dramatic pressure or true 
comedy, close-knit action or genuine literary workmanship, 
humour, fresh observation, naturalness, and free development 
of character. Shaw technically defined a " character actor " 
as a " clever stage performer who cannot act, and therefore 
makes an elaborate study of the disguises and stage tricks by 
which acting can be grossly simulated." And he pronounced 
Pinero's performance as a thinker and social philosopher to be 
" simply character acting in the domain of authorship, which 
can impose only on those who are taken in by character acting 
on the stage." 

The hypothetical " guillotine functioning in Trafalgar 
Square," of which Mr. Archer speaks, Shaw insists was re- 
served for him, not at all because he did all that he could do 
" to discredit, crush, and stamp out the new movement," but 
)ecause he would not bow to the fetish of Pinero. One of his 
chief heresies consisted in unhesitatingly classing Henry Arthur 
Jones as " first, and eminently first, among the surviving fit- 
test of his own generation of playwrights." Ever on the side 
of the minority, he regarded Michael and His Lost Angel as 
" the best play its school has given to the theatre." While 
Pinero, in Shaw's eyes, drew his characters from the outside, 
Jones developed them from within. Shaw recognized in Jones 
a kindred spirit ; both believed that " in all matters of the mod- 
ern drama, England is no better than a parish, with ' parochial ' 
judgments, ' parochial ' instincts, and ' parochial ' ways of 
looking at things." And Shaw accorded Jones the warmest 
praise because he was " the only one of our popular dramatists 
whose sense of the earnestness of real life has been dug deep 
enough to bring him into conflict with the limitations and levi- 
ties of our theatre." 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

For Grundy's school of dramatic art, Shaw had absolutely 
no relish. Indeed, he lamented the vogue of the " well-made 
piece " — those " mechanical rabbits," as he called them, with 
wheels for entrails. Henry James's Guy Domville, which he 
regarded as distinctly du theatre, won his sincere praise; and 
the plays of Henley and Stevenson delighted him with their 
combination of artistic faculty, pleasant boyishness and ro- 
mantic imagination, and fine qualities of poetic speech, despite 
the fact that the authors didn't take the stage seriously — 
" unless it were the stage of pasteboard scenes and characters 
and tin lamps." And to Shaw, Oscar Wilde — " almost as 
acutely Irish an Irishman as the Iron Duke of Wellington " — 
was, in a certain sense, " our only playwright," because he 
" plays with everything: with wit, with philosophy, with drama, 
with actors and audience, with the whole theatre." 

The most serious and the most well-founded charge that can 
be urged against Shaw as a dramatic critic was his impatience 
with everybody who would not " come his way." It was his 
habit to damn a play which was not written as he himself would 
have written it. With characteristic iconoclasm, Shaw ex- 
pressed his regret that Michael and His Lost Angel is a play 
without a hero — some captain of the soul, resolute in champion- 
ing his own faith contra mundum. " Let me rewrite the last 
three acts," says the diabolonian author of The Devil's Dis- 
ciple, " and you shall have your Reverend Michael embracing 
the answer of his own soul, thundering it from the steps of 
his altar, and marching out through his shocked and shamed 
parishioners, with colours flying and head erect and unashamed, 
to the freedom of faith in his own real conscience. Whether 
he is right or wrong is nothing to me as a dramatist ; he must 
follow his star, right or wrong, if he is to be a hero." 

Again, in the latter part of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, 
Aubrey says to Paula, " I know what you were at Ellean's age. 
You hadn't a thought that wasn't a wholesome one ; you hadn't 
an impulse that didn't tend towards good. . . . And this was a 
very few years back." Shaw's comment is highly significant 
of his attitude. " On the reply to that fatuous but not un- 
natural speech depended the whole question of Mr. Pinero's 

284 






THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

rank as a dramatist. One can imagine how, in a play by a 
master-hand, Paula's reply would have opened Tanqueray's 
foolish eyes to the fact that a woman of that sort is already 
the same at three as at thirty-three, and that however she may 
have found by experience that her nature is in conflict with 
the ideals of differently-constituted people, she remains per- 
fectly valid to herself, and despises herself, if she sincerely 
does so at all, for the hypocrisy that the world forces on her 
instead of being what she is." That " master-hand," of which 
Shaw speaks, is now well known to the English public through 
the instrumentality of the Court, the Savoy and the Repertory 
Theatres. But at the time of writing this, and many another 
intolerant criticism, Shaw was violently battering away at the 
gates of tradition, and, Joshua-like, blowing his horn for the 
fall of the walls of the Jericho of the English stage. In The 
Author's Apology to his Dramatic Opinions and Essays, Shaw 
frankly says: 

" I must warn the reader that what he is about to study 
is not a series of judgments aiming at impartiality, but a 
siege laid to the theatre of the nineteenth century by an 
author who had to cut his own way into it at the point 
of the pen and throw some of its defenders into the moat. 

" Pray do not conclude from this that the things here- 
inafter written were not true, or not the deepest and best 
things I know how to say. Only, they must be construed 
in the light of the fact that all through I was accusing 
my opponents of failure because they were not doing what 
I wanted, whereas they were often succeeding very bril- 
liantly in doing what they themselves wanted. I postu- 
lated as desirable a certain kind of play in which I was 
destined ten years later to make my mark as a playwright 
(as I very well foreknew in the depth of my own uncon- 
sciousness) ; and I brought everybody — authors, actors, 
managers — to the one test: were they coming my way or 
staying in the old grooves ? " 

In private, Shaw laughingly declares that the old criticisms 

285 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of Pinero and Jones were all fudge, that Pinero and Archer 
were personal friends, and Shaw and Jones personal friends ; 
so that Archer took on the job of cracking up Pinero and 
Shaw that of cracking up Jones, who were both " doing their 
blood best " for the drama. Later on the old criticisms proved 
no bar to the most cordial personal relations between Shaw 
and Pinero ; and the latter's knighthood, unsought and, indeed, 
undreamt of by himself, was persistently urged on the Prime 
Minister by Shaw. 

Granting all Shaw's unfairness, his confessed partiality and 
domination by an idee fixe for the English stage, it is never- 
theless astounding to read Mr. Archer's declaration that 
Shaw's " critical campaign, conducted with magnificent en- 
ergy and intellectual power, was as nearly as possible barren 
of result." On the contrary, it has been remarked that Shaw's 
dramatic criticisms supply one of the most notable examples 
of cause and effect modern literary history can show. Far 
from being barren of result, Shaw's assaults produced an ef- 
fect little short of remarkable. His theories and principles 
found free expression in the Court Theatre. Indeed, they may 
be said in large measure to have created it, controlled it, and 
achieved its success. To Bernard Shaw and Granville Barker 
belong the credit for giving London, in the Court Theatre, a 
school of acting and a repertory — or rather, short-run — 
theatre such as England had never known before. 

It would take me too far afield to attempt to do full justice 
to the variety and multiplicity of Shaw's functions as a critic 
of the drama, the stage, and the art of acting. The annoying 
part of his career, as Mr. W. L. Courtney somewhere says, is 
that he was more often right than wrong — " right in sub- 
stance, though often wrong in manner, saying true things with 
the most ludicrous air in the world, as if he were merely en- 
joying himself at our expense." He agitated again and again 
for a subsidized theatre; and fought the censorship with un- 
abating zeal.* He championed Ibsen at all times and in all 

* Compare, for example, his ablest and most exhaustive essays on the 
subject: The Author's Apology to the Stage Society edition of Mrs. War- 
ren's Profession; Censorship of the Stage in England, in the North Ameri- 

286 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

places, realizing full well, as in the days of his musical criti- 
cism, that Sir Augustus Harris's prejudices against Wagner 
were no whit greater than Sir Henry Irving's prejudices 
against Ibsen. While he classed Irving as " our ablest ex- 
ponent of acting as a fine art and serious profession," he con- 
sidered all Irving's creations to be creations of his own tem- 
perament. Shaw took Irving sternly to task for his mutilations 
of Shakespeare and his inalienable hostility to Ibsen and the 
modern school. On the day of Irving's death, Shaw wrote: 
" He did nothing for the drama of the present, and he muti- 
lated the remains of the dying Shakespeare; but he carried his 
lifelong fight into victory, and saw the actor recognized as the 
prince of all other artists is recognized ; and that was enough 
in the life of a single man. Requiescat in pace." * Shaw held 
Irving responsible for the remorseless waste of the modernity 
and originality of Ellen Terry's art upon the old drama, de- 
spite the fact that she succeeded in climbing to its highest 
summit. Shaw found consolation in the reflection that " if it 
was denied Ellen Terry to work with Ibsen to interpret the 
indignation of a Nora Helmer, it was her happy privilege to 
work with Burne-Jones and Alma-Tadema." t It was only 

can Review, Vol. CLXIX., pages 251 et seq.; The Solution of the Censor- 
ship Problem, in the Academy, June 29th, 1907; The Censorship of Plays, 
in the Nation (London), November 16th, 1907. 

* Owing partially to mistakes in re-translation into English, partially 
to certain statements made therein, Shaw's article in the Neue Freie Presse 
of Vienna (Feuilleton: Sir Henry Irving, von Bernhard Shaw, October 20th, 
1905, written shortly after Irving's death) aroused a heated discussion 
and controversy, which raged even in America until the Boston Transcript 
let the disputants down heavily by reprinting the article, which was found 
to be quite reasonable and absolutely void of the innuendo of which Shaw 
was accused, namely, that Irving had played the sycophant to obtain a 
knighthood. It is noteworthy that certain matters as to which Shaw was 
erroneously supposed to have misrepresented Irving, were solemnly and 
publicly denied in letters to the Times, yet when the time came for 
biographies of Irving to appear, they contained ample proof that Shaw 
might have made all the denied allegations had he chosen to do so. For 
the facts in the case, compare the essay in the Neue Freie Presse with the 
true text of the essay, in the original English, with Shaw's own notes, in the 
Morning Post, London, December 5th, 1905. 

f Shaw's fine essay on the art of Ellen Terry also appeared in the Neue 
Freie Presse late in 1905. For the English version of the article, cf. the 
Boston Transcript, January 20th, 1906. 

287 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

after Irving's death, and after Ellen Terry had reached the 
age of fifty-eight, that she at last interpreted the Lady Cicely 
Waynflete of Shaw's own Captain Brassbound's Conversion. 

After ten years of continuous criticism of the arts of music 
and the drama, Shaw gave up, exhausted.* The last critical 
continent was conquered. " The strange Jabberwocky Oracle 
whom men call Shaw," began to attain to the eminence of the 
" interview " and the " celebrity at home " column. In his 
first feuilleton, Max Beerbohm, Shaw's successor on the Sat- 
urday Review, said of him : " With all his faults — grave though 
they are and not to be counted on the fingers of one hand — he 
is, I think, by far the most brilliant and remarkable journalist 
in London." Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant, then just pub- 
lished, were creating unusual interest. Shaw was doubtless 
influenced thereby to devote himself, as artist, exclusively to 
the writing of plays. In order to make as much as the stage 
royalties from The Devil's Disciple alone, for example, he 
would, as he said, have had " to write his heart out for six 
years in the Saturday." The superhuman profession of jour- 
nalism began to pall upon him: excellence in it he regarded as 
quite beyond mortal strength and endurance. " I took extraor- 
dinary pains — all the pains I was capable of — to get to the 
bottom of everything I wrote about. . . . Ten years of such 
work, at the rate of two thousand words a week or thereabouts 
— say, roughly, a million words — all genuine journalism, de- 
pendent on the context of the week's history for its effect, was 
an apprenticeship which made me master of my own style." 
Shaw's income as a journalist began in 1885 at one hundred 
and seventeen pounds and threepence; and it ended at five 
hundred pounds. By this time he had reached the age at which 
one discovers that "journalism is a young man's standby, not 
an old man's livelihood." Shaw had said all that he had to 
say of Irving and Tree; and concerning Shakespeare he 
boasted : " When I began to write, William was a divinity and 
a bore. Now he is a fellow-creature." But, above all, he had 
gloriously succeeded in the creation of that most successful 

* His Valedictory appeared in the Saturday Review, May 21st, 1898. 



THE DRAMATIC CRITIC 

of all his fictions — G. B. S. " For ten years past, with an un- 
precedented pertinacity and obstination, I have been dinning 
into the public head that I am an extraordinarily witty, bril- 
liant, and clever man. That is now part of the public opinion 
of England; and no power in heaven or on earth will ever 
change it. I may dodder and dote ; I may pot-boil and plati- 
tudinize; I may become the butt and chopping-block of all the 
bright, original spirits of the rising generation ; but my reputa- 
tion shall not suffer: it is built up fast and solid, like Shake- 
speare's, on an impregnable basis of dogmatic reiteration." 



289 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

"In all my plays my economic studies have played as important a part 
as a knowledge of anatomy does in the works of Michael Angelo." — Letter 
to the author, of date June 30th, 1904. 

" Plays which, dealing less with the crimes of society, and more with its 
romantic follies, and with the struggles of individuals against those follies, 
may be called, by contrast, Pleasant." — Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant, 
Vol. I., Preface. 



CHAPTER X 

WHILE resting from the over-exertions of the political 
campaign at the time of the General Election in 1892, 
Shaw came upon the manuscript of the partially finished play 
begun in 1885. " Tickled " by the play, and urged by Mr. 
Grein, Shaw began work upon it anew. " But for Mr. Grein 
and the Independent Theatre Society," Shaw confessed, " it 
would have gone back to its drawer and lain there another seven */ 
years, if not for ever." * With this play, Widowers' Houses, ^^ 
Shaw made his debut upon the English stage as a problem 
dramatist with the avowed purpose of exposing existent evils in 
the prevailing social order. Widowers' Houses is the first native 
play of the New School in England consciously devoted to the 
exposure of the social guilt of the community. 

In 1885, shortly after the completion of the novels of his 
nonage, Shaw began this play in collaboration with Mr. 
William Archer. After learning to know Shaw by sight in the 
British Museum reading-room, as a " young man of tawny com- 
plexion and attire," studying alternately, if not simultaneously, 
Karl Marx's Das Kapital (in French), and an orchestral score 
of Tristan and Isolde, Mr. Archer finally met him at the house 
of a common acquaintance. 

" I learned from himself that he was the author of several 
unpublished masterpieces of fiction. Construction, he 
owned with engaging modesty, was not his strong point, 
but hh dialogue was incomparable. Now, in those days I 
had still a certain hankering after the rewards, if not the 
glories, of the playwright. With a modesty in no way 
inferior to Mr. Shaw's, I had realized that I could not 

* Compare the account of Mr. Eden Greville, one of Mr. Grein's asso- 
ciates in the Independent Theatre Society, in Munsey's Magazine, March, 
1906, entitled, Bernard Shaw and His Plays. 

293 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

write dialogue a bit; but I still considered myself a born 
constructor. I proposed, and Mr. Shaw agreed to, a col- 
laboration. I was to provide him with one of the numer- 
ous plots I kept in stock, and he was to write the dialogue. 
So said, so done. I drew out, scene by scene, the scheme 
of a twaddling cup-and-saucer comedy vaguely suggested 
by Augier's Ceinture Doree. The details I forget, but I 
know it was to be called Rhinegold, was to open, as Wid- 
owers 9 Houses actually does, in an hotel garden on the 
Rhine, and was to have two heroines, a sentimental and a 
comic one, according to the accepted Robertson-Byron- 
Carton formula. I fancy the hero was to propose to the 
sentimental heroine, believing her to be the poor niece in- 
stead of the rich daughter of the sweater, or slum-landlord, 
or whatever he may have been ; and I know he was to carry 
on in the most heroic fashion, and was ultimately to succeed 
in throwing the tainted treasure of his father-in-law, meta- 
phorically speaking, into the Rhine. All this I gravely 
propounded to Mr. Shaw, who listened with no less admira- 
ble gravity. Then I thought the matter had dropped, for 
I heard no more of it for many weeks. I used to see Mr. 
Shaw at the Museum, laboriously writing page after page 
of the most exquisitely neat shorthand at the rate of about 
three words a minute, but it did not occur to me that this 
was our play. After about six weeks he said tome:' Look 
here: I've written half the first act of that comedy, and 
I've used up all your plot. Now I want some more to go 
on with.' I told him that my plot was a rounded and 
perfect organic whole, and that I could no more eke it 
out in this fashion than I could provide him or myself with 
a set of supplementary arms and legs. I begged him to 
extend his shorthand and let me see what he had done ; but 
this would have taken him far too long. He tried to de- 
cipher some of it orally, but the process was too lingering 
and painful for endurance. So he simply gave me an out- 
line in narrative of what he had done ; and I saw that, so 
far from using up my plot, he had not even touched it. 
There the matter rested for months and years. Mr. Shaw 

294 



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THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

would now and then hold out vague threats of finishing 
* our play,' but I felt no serious alarm. I thought (judg- 
ing from my own experience in other cases) that when he 
came to read over in cold blood what he had written, he 
would see what impossible stuff it was. Perhaps my free 
utterance of this view piqued him; perhaps he felt im- 
pelled to remove from the Independent Theatre the re- 
proach of dealing solely in foreign products. The fire of 
his genius, at all events, was not to be quenched by my 
persistent application of the wet blanket. He finished his 
play; Mr. Grein, as in duty bound, accepted it; and the 
result was the performance of Friday last at the Inde- 
pendent Theatre." * 

According to Shaw's account, he produced a horribly incon- 
gruous effect by " laying violent hands on his (Archer's) thor- 
oughly planned scheme for a sympathetically romantic c well- 
made play ' of the type then in vogue," and perversely 
distorting it into a " grotesquely realistic exposure of slum- 
landlordism, muncipal jobbery, and the pecuniary and matri- 
monial ties between it and the pleasant people of ' independent ' 
incomes who imagine that such sordid matters do not touch their 
own lives." Shortly before the production of Widowers' 
Houses, there appeared an " Interview " with Shaw, purporting 
to give some idea of the much-mooted play, but leaving the 
public in doubt as to the seriousness with which this mock- 
solemn information was to be taken.f " Sir," said Shaw sternly 
to the interviewer (himself!), "it (my play) will be nothing 
else than didactic. Do you suppose I have gone to all this 
trouble to amuse the public? No, if they want that, there is 
the Criterion for them, the Comedy, the Garrick, and so on. 

, object is to instruct them." And to explain the allusion \ 
contained in the title, concerning which speculation was rife, 
Shaw remarked to the interviewer : " I have been assured that / 



*Mr. William Archer, writing in the World (London), for Wednesday, 
December 14th, 1892. 

fThe Star, November 29th, 1892. Mr. Archer once told me that there 
was little doubt that Shaw wrote the " Interview " in toto. 

295 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

in one of the sections of the Bible dealing with the land question 
there is a clause against the destruction of widows' houses. 
There is no widow in my play ; but there is a widower who owns 
slum property. Hence the title. Perhaps you are not familiar 
with the Bible." * 

After repeated calls from the audience Shaw made an im- 
promptu speech at the close of the first performance of Wid- 
owers' Houses. He said that " he wished to assure his listeners 
that the greeting of the play had been agreeable to him, for 
had the story been received lightly he would have been disap- 
pointed. What he had submitted to their notice was going on 
in actual life. The action of Widowers 9 Houses depicted the 
ordinary middle-class life of the day, but he heartily hoped the 
time would come when the play he had written would be both 
utterly impossible and utterly unintelligible. If anyone were to 

. /ask him where the Socialism came in, he would say that it was 
in the love of their art on Socialistic principles that had induced 
the performers to give their services on that occasion. In con- 
clusion, he trusted that, above all, the critics would carefully 
discriminate between himself and the actors who had so zeal- 
ously striven to carry out his intentions." According to a con- 
temporary account : " Warm cheers greeted the playwright who 
thus candidly and gratefully acknowledged the excellent work 
rendered by the players, whilst still proclaiming that his play 
was in all particulars the faithful reflex of a sordid and unpity- 
ing age." 

The play, a nine-days' wonder, was widely paragraphed in 
the newspapers, and regarded in some quarters as a daring 
attack on middle-class society. The storm of protest aroused 
by Widowers 9 Houses almost paralleled the howl of execration 
evoked by the production of Ibsen's Ghosts in England. Wid- 
owers 9 Houses was intended as neither a beautiful nor a lovable 
work. Shaw confessed years afterwards that the play was 

^/entirely unreadable except for the prefaces and appendices, 
which he rightly regarded as good. The art of this play was 
confessedly the expression of the sense of intellectual and moral 

* Matthew xxiii., 14; Mark xii., 38-40; Luke xx., 46-47. 

296 



v^ 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

perversity ; for Shaw had passed most of his life in big modern 
towns, where his sense of beauty had been starved, whilst his 
intellect had been gorged with problems like that of the slums. 
Widowers' Houses is " saturated with the vulgarity of the life 
it represents " ; and, in the first edition of the play, Shaw con- 
fesses that he is " not giving expression in pleasant fancies to 
the underlying beauty and romance of happy life, but dragging 
up to the smooth surface of ' respectability ' a handful of the 
slime and foulness of its polluted bed, and playing off your 
laughter at the scandal of the exposure against your shudder 
at its blackness." 

Like Bulwer Lytton, Stevenson, and other nineteenth-century 
novelists who turned to the writing of plays, Shaw approached 
the theatre lacking due appreciation of the difficulties of 
dramatic art, the perfect artistic sincerity it demands. Writing • 
his play as a pastime, he employed it as a means of shocking 
the sensibilities of his audience as well as of winging a barbed 
shaft at its smug respectability. Paying no heed to that golden 
mean of " average truth," which Sainte Beuve impressed with 
such high seriousness upon the youthful Zola, Shaw indulges 
in that extreme form of depicting life, the mutilation of hu- 
manity, which Brunetiere pronounced to be the vital defect of 
naturalism. A pair of lovers dans cette galere! As Mr. Archer 
said at the time : " When they are not acting with a Gilbertian 
naivete of cynicism, they are snapping and snarling at each 
other like a pair of ill-conditioned curs." 

The accusation of indebtedness to Ibsen hurled at Shaw from 
all sides as soon as his play was produced was promptly 
squelched by Shaw's vigorous denial. It is worth remarking, 
however, that " tainted money," that bone of contention in 
America and the theme of Shaw's later Major Barbara, is the 
abuse which serves as the mark for the satire, both of Ibsen in 
An Enemy of the People, and of Shaw in Widowers' Houses. 
The perverting effect of ill-gotten gains upon the moral sense 
is the lesson of these two plays. Whereas Shaw was content 
to uncover the social canker and expose its ravages in all direc- 
tions, Ibsen, through the instrumentality of Stockmann, holds 
out an ideal for the regeneration of society. 

297 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Widowers 9 Houses abounds in flashes of insight, in passages 
of trenchant dialogue, in sardonic exposure of human nature; 
the keen intellect of the author is everywhere in evidence. 
Shaw's vigorous Socialism is largely responsible for the clarity 
and succinctness with which the economic point is driven home ; 
and the discussions of social problems are tense with a nervous 
vivacity almost dramatic in quality. And yet the structural 
defect of the play is the loose dramatic connection between the X 
economic elucidations and the general psychological processes 
of the action. 

Before the production of Widowers 9 Houses, Shaw publicly 
stated that the first two acts were written before he ever heard 
of Ibsen ; and afterwards he asserted that his critics " should 
have guessed this, because there is not one idea in the play that 
cannot be more easily referred to half a dozen English writers 
than to Ibsen; whilst of his peculiar retrospective method, by 
which his plays are made to turn upon events supposed to have 
happened before the rise of the curtain, there is not a trace in 
my work." * Shaw laughed incontinently at those people who 
excitedly discussed the play as a daringly original sermon, but 
who would not accept it as a play on any terms " because its 
hero did not, when he learned that his income came from slum 
property, at once relinquish it (i.e., make it a present to Sar- 
torius without benefiting the tenants), and go to the goldfields 
to dig out nuggets with his strong right arm, so that he might 
return to wed his Blanche after a shipwreck (witnessed by her 
in a vision), just in time to rescue her from beggary, brought 
upon her by the discovery that Lickcheese was the rightful 
heir to the property of Sartorius, who had dispossessed and 
enslaved him by a series of forgeries unmasked by the faithful 
Cokane ! " 

For the sake of its bearing upon Shaw's subsequent career, 
one important contemporary impression deserves to be placed 
on record. Five months after the production of Widowers 9 
Houses, in a review (published May 4th, 1893) of the Inde- 

* Appendix I., Widowers' Houses; Independent Theatre edition. Henry 
and Co., London, 1893. 

298 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

pendent Theatre edition of that play, Mr. William Archer ear- 
nestly endeavoured to dissuade Shaw from turning dramatist. 

" It is a pity that Mr. Shaw should labour under a delu- 
sion as to the true bent of his talent, and, mistaking an 
amusing jeu d'esprit for a work of creative art, should 
perhaps be tempted to devote further time and energy to 
a form of production for which he has no special ability 
and some constitutional disabilities. A man of his power 
of mind can do nothing that is altogether contemptible. 
We may be quite sure that if he took palette and s com- 
menced painter,' or set to work to manipulate a lump of 
clay, he would produce a picture or a statue that would 
bear the impress of a keen intelligence, and would be well 
worth looking at. That is precisely the case of Widowers 9 
Houses. It is a curious example of what can be done in 
art by sheer brain-power, apart from natural aptitude. 
For it does not appear that Mr. Shaw has any more 
specific talent for the drama than he has for painting or 
sculpture." 

Shaw's next play, The Philanderer, is distinctly a piece ^oc- 
casion and should be read in the light of the attitude of the 
British public toward Ibsen and Ibsenism at the time of its 
writing. After Miss Janet Achurch's performance as Nora 
Helmer in A Doll's House, in 1889, Ibsen became the target of 
dramatic criticism; and Shaw's Quintessence of Ibsenism, pub- 
lished in 1891, was the big gun, going off when the controversy 
was at its height. Sir Edwin Arnold made an editorial attack 
on Ibsen, Mr. Frederick Wedmore echoed his denunciation, and 
Clement Scott exhausted his vocabulary of vituperation in an 
almost hysterical outcry against the foulness and obscenity of 
the shameless Norwegian. The Philanderer was written just 
when the cult of Ibsen had reached the pinnacle of fatuity. 
From Shaw's picture, one is led to suppose that society, with 
reference to Ibsen, was roughly divided into three classes: the 
conservatives of the old guard, regarding Ibsen as a monstrum 
horrendum; the soi-disant Ibsenites, glibly conversant with Ib- 

299 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

sen's ideas but profoundly ignorant of their meaning; and, 
lastly, those who really understood Ibsen, this class being made 
up of two sorts of individuals, those who really intended to 
adopt Ibsen principles, and those who were keen and unscrupu- 
lous enough to exploit Ibsenism solely for the sake of the sus- 
tenance it afforded parasitic growths like themselves. The 
ideal of the " womanly woman " still prevailed in English 
society. Shaw here readily perceived the possibilities for satire 
and tragi-comedy, both in the clash of old prejudices with new 
ideas, and in the mordant contrast discovered by the conflict 
of the over-sexed, passionate " womanly woman " with the under- 
sexed, pallidly intellectual philanderer of the Ibsen school. Had 
Shaw's performance been as able as his perception was acute, 
The Philanderer would have been a genuine achievement instead 
of a grimly promising failure. 
y The Philanderer serves as a link between the plays of Shaw's 
earlier and later manners. Present marriage laws really have 
very little to do with this play, which concerns itself with a 
study of social types. Julia is the -fine fleur of feral femininity ; 
woman's practice of employing her personal charms unscrupu- 
lously and man's practice of treating woman as a mere plaything 
both have a share in the formation of her character. Grace 
Tranfield is the best type of the advanced woman ; she demands 
equality of opportunity for women, rejects the " lord and mas- 
ter " theory, and fights always for the integrity of her self- 
respect. Between these two women stands Leonard Charteris, 
holding the average young cub's cynical ideas about women, 
sharpened to acuteness through the intellectual astuteness of 
Bernard Shaw. Charteris, in his bloodless Don Juanism, is the 
type of the degenerate male flirt — the pallid prey of the maladie 
du Steele. " C'est un homme qui ne fait la cour aux femmes 
ni pour le bon ni pour le mauvais motif," says M. Filon. " Que 
veut-il? S'amuser. Seulement — comme on l'a dit des Anglais 
en general — il s'amuse tristement; il y a dans l'attitude de ce 
seducteur glacial et degoute quelque chose qui n'est pas tres viril. 
On dit la societe anglaise infestee de ces gens-la." * 

* M . Bernard Shaw et son ThSdtre, by Augustin Filon. Revue des Deux 
Mondes, November 15th, 1905; p. 424. 

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Upon the mind of any unprejudiced person, I think, The 
Philanderer creates the impression that Shaw's attitude toward 
women in this play must have been induced by unpleasant per- 
sonal relations with women prior to the time at which the play 
/ was written. Many people paid him the insult of recognizing 
him in Charteris ; and I have even been told that Shaw was tem- 
peramentally not dissimilar to Charteris, at that particular 
period. The play is marked by unnaturalness and immaturity 
at every turn ; but several scenes exhibit great nervous strength. 
Mr. Robert Loraine once remarked to me that, in his opinion, 
the first act of The Philanderer was unparalleled in its veri- 
similitude, always making him realize the truth of Ibsen's dic- 
tum that the modern stage must be regarded as a room of 
which one wall has been removed. Mr. Loraine's impression is 
fully justified by the fact that the scene is a more or less accu- 
rate replica of a scene in Mr. Shaw's own life. 

As a play, The Philanderer is crude and amateurish, revolv- 
ing upon the pivot of Charteris's satire, and presenting various 
features in turn — now extravaganza, now broad farce, now 
comedy, now tragi-comedy. With all its brilliant mental vivi- 
section, the conversation of Charteris is never natural, but supra- 
natural; the utterly gross and caddish indecency of his 
exposures would never be tolerated for an instant in polite or 
even respectable society. And yet Mr. Shaw once vehemently 
assured me : " Charteris is not passionless, not unscrupulous, 
and a sincere, not a pseudo, Ibsenist " ! Cuthbertson is a cari- 
cature of Clement Scott; and, in virtually the same words used 
by Scott in his attacks upon Ibsen, Cuthbertson avows that 
the whole modern movement is abhorrent to him " because his 
life had been passed in witnessing scenes of suffering nobly 
endured and sacrifice willingly rendered by womanly women 
and manly men." The mannerisms of Craven, " Now really " in 
especial, are taken directly, Mr. Shaw once told me, from Mr. 
H. M. Hyndman, the English Socialist leader. Dr. Paramore 
is the puppet of broad farce, immune to all humane concern 
through inoculation with the deadly germ of scientific research ; 
while Sylvia is merely the pert little soubrette. The inverted 
Gilbertism of Colonel Craven's : " Do you mean to say that I am 

302 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

expected to treat my daughter the same as I would any other 
girl? Well, dash me if I will!" faintly strikes the note of 
Falsacappa, the brigand chief, in Meilhac and Halevy's The 
Brigands: "Marry my daughter to an honest man! Never!" 
— a phrase with which Mr. W. S. Gilbert afterwards did such 
execution in The Pirates of Penzance. 

When The Philanderer was published in 1898, the public was 
puzzled and astounded to read an " attack " on Ibsen by Ibsen's 
most valiant champion in England! So shocked was Mr. 
Archer by this " outrage upon art and decency " that he wanted 
to " cut " his colleague and friend in the street. The Philan- 
derer thus laid the foundation of Shaw's reputation as a cynic 
and a paradoxer. It is chiefly interesting to-day as a fore- 
shadowing and promise of the lines of development of the later 
dramatist. Superficially, this play mirrors the glaring, even 
tragic contrast between faddist idealization of Ibsen, and sin- 
cere realization of Ibsenism. But, in the light of subsequent 
events, the play rather teaches that Charteris as male flirt is the 
model for the sketchy Valentine, that Julia is the Ann Whitefield 
of a more natural and less self-conscious phase. Throughout 
the play we are reminded of the brutal laughter of Wedekind, 
the sardonic humour of Becque, and, in places, even of the dark 
levity of Ibsen himself. The portrayal of Julia is remarkable, 
in spite of the damaging error of representing her as fit sub- 
ject for the police court — mentally arrested in development, 
victim of violent " brain-storms," unscrupulous, treacherous, 
deceitful, feline. And yet, by some marvellous trick of sub- 
tle art, the author has caused this creature to win our pro- 
found sympathy in the end. After all, her love for Charteris 
is genuine and sincere; and the scene between Grace and 
Julia, after the latter has accepted Dr. Paramore, is pro- 
foundly touching: 

Grace (speaking in a low voice to Julia alone) : So you 
have shown him that you can do without him! Now 
I take back everything I said. Will you shake hands 
with me? (Julia gives her hand painfully, with her 
face averted.) They think this a happy ending, 
303 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Julia — these men — our lords and masters! {The two 
stand silent, hand in hand.) 

The human drama of this play, merely sketched though it 
be, is the conflict in Julia's soul between her violent passion for 
Charteris and her true impulse toward self-respect. The 
quintessence of her tragedy is expressed in her last tilt with 
Charteris. He walks up to congratulate her, proffering his 
hand. 

Julia (exhausted, allowing herself to take it) : You are 

right. I am a worthless woman. 
Charteris (triumphant, and gaily remonstrating): Oh, 

why? 
Julia: Because I am not brave enough to kill you. 

Shaw's next play, Mrs. Warren's Profession, completed his 
first cycle of economic studies in dramatic form; and at one 
stroke demonstrated Shaw to be a dramatist of marked powers 
and ability. Shaw's account of the genesis of this play is an 
important link in its history. In regard to the title, Shaw 
says : " The tremendously effective scene — which a baby could 
write if its sight were normal — in which she (Mrs. Warren) 
justifies herself, is only a paraphrase of a scene in a novel of 
my own, ' Cashel Byron's Profession ' (hence the title, Mrs. 
Warren's Profession), in which a prize-fighter shows how he 
was driven into the ring exactly as Mrs. Warren was driven 
on the streets." Shaw met the charge of indebtedness to Ibsen 
and De Maupassant with the statement that, if a dramatist 
living in the world of multifarious interests, duties and experi- 
ences in which he lived has to go to books for his ideas and 
his inspiration, he must be both blind and deaf. " Most 
dramatists are," he laconically added. So Mrs. Warren's Pro- 
fession came about in this way: 

" Miss Janet Achurch mentioned to me a novel by some 
French writer as having a dramatizable story in it. It 

304 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

being hopeless to get me to read anything, she told me the 
story, which was ultra-romantic. I said, ' Oh, I will work 
out the real truth about that mother some day.' In the 
following autumn I was the guest of a lady of very dis- 
tinguished ability — one whose knowledge of English social 
types is as remarkable as her command of industrial and 
political questions. She suggested that I should put on the 
stage a real modern lady of the governing class — not the 
sort of thing that theatrical and critical authorities im- 
agine such a lady to be. I did so; and the result was 
Miss Vivie Warren, who has laid the intellect of Mr. Wil- 
liam Archer in ruins. ... I finally persuaded Miss 
Achurch, who is clever with her pen, to dramatize the story 
herself on the original romantic lines. Her version is 
called Mrs. Daintry's Daughter. That is the history of 
Mrs. Warren's Profession. I never dreamt of Ibsen or De 
Maupassant, any more than a blacksmith shoeing a horse 
thinks of the blacksmith in the next county." * 

Of course, one blacksmith cannot possibly know what another 
blacksmith in the next county is doing. But Shaw was not 
only aware of what Ibsen was doing and had done: he had 
actually written a remarkable analysis of Ibsen's plays and, 
with his utmost critical skill, defended Ibsen's art and philos- 
ophy, on the platform and in the press, against the ablest 
critics in England. As clearly as Ghosts does Mrs. Warren's 
Profession reveal the truth of George Eliot's dictum that conse- 
quences are unpitying; a true drama of catastrophe, employ- 
ing Ibsen's peculiar retrospective method, Shaw's play exem- 
plifies, in Amiel's words, the fatality of the consequences which 
follow every human act. Nora as daughter, instead of Nora 
as wife, Vivie leaves her home under the same profound con- 
viction of her duty to herself as a human being — a duty in- 
finitely more obligatory than any she may be conventionally 
imagined to owe to a Magdalen mother, who has educated and 

* Mr. Shaw's Method and Secret, letter to the editor of the Daily 
Chronicle, April 30th, 1898, signed G. Bernard Shaw. In the first draft, 
the play was entitled Mrs. Jarman's Profession. 

305 



/ 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

purposes to support her out of the profits of a profession which 
as its roots in the most hideous of all social evils.* 
Mrs. Warren's Profession towers high above his first two 
plays, and places Shaw in the front rank of contemporary dra- 
matic craftsmen. Its strength proceeds from the depth dis- 
played in the consideration of the motives which prompt to 
action, the intellectual and emotional crises eventuating from the 
fierce clash of personalities and the sardonically unconscious self- 
scourging of the characters themselves. The scenes are so ad- 
mirably ordered, the procedure so swift, the situations so 
charged with significance that one can find little to wonder at 
in Mr. Cunninghame Graham's characterization of Mrs. War- 
ren's Profession as " the best that has been written in English 
in our generation." Tense, nervous, vigorous, the great scenes 
are full of " that suppleness, that undulation of emotional 
process," which Mr. Archer pronounces one of the unmistakable 
tokens of dramatic mastery. The tremendous dramatic power 
of the specious logic with which Mrs. Warren defends her 
course ; the sardonic irony of the parting between mother and 
daughter! Goethe said of Moliere that he chastises men by 
drawing them just as they are. True descendant of Moliere, 
whom he once declared to be worth a thousand Shakespeares, 
Shaw wields upon vice the shrieking scourge, not of the preacher, 
but of the dramatist. Out of the mouths of the characters 
themselves proceeds their own condemnation. Devastating in 
its consummate irony is the passage in which Mrs. Warren, con- 
ventional to her heart's core, lauds her own respectability ; and 
that in which Crofts propounds his own code of honour: 

Crofts : My code is a simple one, and, I think, a good one : 
Honour between man and man; fidelity between 

* It should be clearly pointed out that Shaw is in no sense indebted to 
Ibsen for dissatisfaction with the existent social order. The facts of 
Shaw's life disprove the statement of Dr. Georg Brandes {Bernard Shaw's 
Teater, in Politikken, Copenhagen, December 29th, 1902): "What Shaw 
chiefly owes to Ibsen, whose harbinger he was, seems to be a tendency 
towards rebellion against commonly recognized prejudices, dramatic as well 
as social." Shaw's attacks upon modern capitalistic society, both in Wid- 
owers' Houses and in Mrs. Warren's Profession, are the immediate fruits 
of his Socialism and his economic studies. 

306 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

man and woman; and no cant about this or that 
religion, but an honest belief that things are mak- 
ing for good on the whole. 

Vivie (with biting irony) : " A power, not ourselves, that 
makes for righteousness," eh? 

Ceofts (taking her seriously): Oh, certainly, not our- 
selves, of course. You understand what I mean. 

Dr. Brandes called Ibsen's Ghosts, if not the greatest achieve- 
ment, at any rate the noblest action of the poet's career. Mrs. 
Warren's Profession is not only what Brunetiere would call a 
work of combat : it is an act — an act of declared hostility against 
capitalistic society, the inertia of public opinion, the lethargy 
of the public conscience, and the criminality of a social order 
which begets such appalling social conditions. Into this play 
Shaw has poured all his Socialistic passion for a more just and 
humane social order. 

As an arraignment of social conditions, the play is tre- 
mendous. As a work of art, it presents marked deficiencies. 
Shaw sought to dispose of one charge — that Vivie is merely 
Shaw in petticoats — in these words : " One of my female char- 
acters, who drinks whisky and smokes cigars and reads detective 
stories and regards the fine arts, especially music, as an insuf- 
ferable and unintelligible waste of time, has been declared by 
my friend, Mr. William Archer, to be an exact and authentic 
portrait of myself, on no other grounds in the world except 
that she is a woman of business and not a creature of romantic 
impulse." It is clear that this is not a satisfactory answer 
to Mr. Archer's charge; but even in more minor details, the 
play is open to criticism: the futility of Praed, save as a bare- 
faced confidant; the cheap melodrama of Frank and the rifle; 
the series of coincidences culminating in the Rev. Mr. Gard- 
ner's miserably confused " Miss Vavasour, I believe ! " at the 
end of the first act. More important still, as Mr. Archer once 
pointed out,* there is nothing of the inevitable in the meeting 

* Study and Stage, by William Archer, in the Daily News, June 21st, 
1902. 

307 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of Frank and Vivie, despite Shaw's assertion that " the chil- 
dren of any polyandrous group will, when they grow up, inevita- 
bly be confronted with the insoluble problem of their own possi- 
ble consanguinity." Had Vivie not happened to take lodgings 
at that particular farmhouse in Surrey, she would never have 
seen or heard of Frank, and the " inevitable " would never have 
happened. But this single lapse of logic, together with the 
other defects mentioned, are comparatively venial faults — 
which Shaw probably classes among those " relapses into stagi- 
ness " betraying, as he confessed, " the young playwright and 
the old playgoer in this early work of mine." 
/It is the predominance of a certain hard, sheer rationalism, 

V/and a defiant, irresponsible levity in places, which mars the 
artistic unity of the play, and denies it the exalted rank to 
which it well-nigh attains. At the fundamental morality of the 
play there is no cause to cavil. Instead of maintaining an asso- 
ciation in the imagination of the spectators between prostitution 
and fashionable beauty, luxury and refinement, as do La Dame 
aux Camellias, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Iris, Zaza and 
countless other modern plays, Mrs. Warren's Profession exhibits 
the life of the courtesan in all its arid actuality, and inculcates 
a lesson of the sternest morality. It is because she is what she 
is that Mrs. Warren loses her daughter irrevocably. In gen- 
eral, the logic of the play is unimpeachable ; but the rationalist 
character imparted to the conversations of the principal char- 
acters by their persistence in arguing everything out logically , 
gives the play a sort of glacial rigidity. The principal defect V 
of the play is the discrepancy between the tragic seriousness 
of the theme and the occasional depressing levity of its treat- 
ment. Consonance between theme and tone is the prime requisite 
of a work of art. This remarkable play falls just short of ^/^ 
real greatness because its whimsical, facetious, irrepressible au- 
thor was unable to discipline himself to artistic self-restraint. 
Mrs. Warren's Profession is calculated to produce an almost 
unendurable effect because, as Mr. Archer wisely says, Bernard 
Shaw is " the slave of his sense of the ridiculous." 

V The close of the year 1893 marks the beginning of a new 

308 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

i^phase in the evolution of Shaw's art as a dramatist. As 
Brunetiere said to the Symbolists, so the English public said 
to Mr. Grein and his supporters of the Independent Theatre 
Society : " Gentlemen, produce your masterpieces ! " Shaw 
eagerly took up the case; and rather than let it collapse, he 
" manufactured the evidence." His first play met with a succes 
de scandcde; his second failed of production ; and his third, the 
expected " masterpiece," was debarred by the censorship. The 
union of economics and Socialism in thesis-plays met with no 
favour at the hands of the British public. Shaw was forced to 
relinquish for the time being his purpose of reforming the public 
through the medium of the stage. His original disavowal of any 
intent to amuse the public went for naught in default of a 
platform from which to deliver instruction. 

Shaw's social determinism, as M. Auguste Hamon once ex- 
pressed it to me, is " absolute " : his fundamental Socialism 
throws the blame, not upon Trench, Charteris, Crofts and Mrs. 
Warren, as individuals, but upon the prevailing social order, 
the capitalistic regime, which offers them as alternatives, not 
morality and immorality, but two sorts of immorality.* Upon 
each individual in his audience, whether in the study or in the 
theatre, Shaw threw the burden of responsibility for defective 
social organization, and for those social horrors which can 
only be mitigated, and, perhaps, ultimately abolished, by public 
opinion, public action and public contribution. Mr. Shaw once 
described this play to me as a faithful presentment of the 
" economic basis of modern commercial prostitution." But the 
managers well knew that the public was averse to being forced 
to face the unpleasant facts set forth in Shaw's three " un- 
pleasant " plays. The rigour of the censorship and prevailing 
theatrical conditions in London were hostile to Shaw's initial 
efforts. 

" You cannot write three plays and then stop," Shaw has 

•Compare The Author's Apology, the preface to the Stage Society edi- 
tion of Mrs. Warren's Profession (Grant Richards, London, 1902), pp. 
xxvii. and xxviii. in especial; and also Mainly About Myself, the preface to 
Vol. I. of Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant, pp. xxix-xxxi. in the American 
edition (H. S. Stone and Co., Chicago, 1902). 

309 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

explained. Accordingly, for obvious reasons, social determin- 
ism ceased to be the motive force of Shaw's dramas ; and he 
began to write plays concerned more particularly with the J 
comedy and tragedy of individual life and destiny. Shaw did * 
not cease to be a satirist, did not desist from his effort to 
startle the public out of its bland complacency: he merely 
diverted for the time being the current of his satire from social 
abuses to the shams, pretences, illusions and self-deceptions of 
individual life. Having learned to beware of solemnity, Shaw ^ 
makes the satiric jest his point of departure. From this time 
forward he occupies and operates upon a new plane. He has 
ceased to be purely the social scavenger. Bernard Shaw's 
comedy of manners and of character now enters into the history 
of British drama. 

Arms and the Man — obviously deriving its title from the |/ 
Arma virumque cano of the opening line of Virgil's 2Eneid — 
is one of Shaw's most delightful comedies — a genuine comedy 
of character and yet theatrical in the true sense, Dr. Brandes 
has called it. Not the least of its virtues is the implicitness of 
its philosophy; perhaps this is one reason why Mr. Shaw (as 
he lately remarked to me) now considers it a very slight and 
immature production ! From one point of view, this play may 
be regarded as a study of the psychology of the military pro- 
fession.* From another point of view — the standpoint of the 
regular playgoer — the play has for its dramatic essence the 
collision of romantic illusion with prosaic reality. 

To many people the play appeared as a " damning sneer at 
military courage," an attempted demonstration of the astound- 
ing thesis that heroism is merely a sublimated form of cow- 
ardice ! When King Edward — then Prince of Wales — witnessed 
a performance of the play, he could not be induced to smile 
even once ; and afterwards it was reported that " his Royal 
Highness regretted that the play should have shown so dis- 
respectful an attitude toward the Army as was betrayed by 

* Compare La Psychologie du Militaire Professionel, by Auguste Hamon, 
which appeared in November, 1893. I have no reason to believe that 
Shaw was under any indebtedness to this book in writing Arms and the 
Man. 

310 



AVENUE 

THEATRE. NORTHUMBERLAND ^AVENUE, CHARINB CROSS. W.C. 
Manager *""" Mr C. T H. HELMSLKY 

A CHORUS OF APPROVAL 

PROM THE 

ENTIRE PRESS. 



TE N MINUTES TO NINE 

ARMS z MAN 



BY BERNARD SHAW 

11 -"mi i i i Mm iixr^n .i. niT. < nrTiin W> M 



*FECSS WORLD SAYS 

"There is not the least doubt 
that 'Arms and the Man* is one 
of the most amusing entertainments 
at present before the Public. It is 
quite as funny as ' CHARLEY'S AUHTF 
or 'THE WEW BOY 1 ; we laughed at 
it wildly, hysterically; and I exhort 
the reader to go and do likewise." 

THE SVwA.SK SATS:- 

"My sides are still aching with 
laughter^ 

VAKTIT.1? PAIR SAYS- 

" Everybody ought to go and see 
this Play/; & __ 

NOTE.- For remainder, please see Advertisement in Morning PaperB'-the full- 
Lsi being too long- to quote here. 



Playbill of Arms and the Man. 
Avenue Theatre, London. April 21st, 1894. First production on any stage. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the character of the chocolate-cream soldier." * Bluntschli is 
a natural realist, to whom long military service has taught the 
salutary lesson that bullets are to be avoided, not sought ; that 
the main object of the efficient soldier is not the bubble reputa- 
tion at the cannon's mouth, but practical success and the 
preservation of life. Shaw had never seen service, never par- 
ticipated in a battle — save the battle of Trafalgar Square. 
•'But he happened to be a modern realist with a tremendous fund 
of satire and fantasy. And although he had to get his data at 
second hand, he experienced no difficulty in finding abundant 
material, to authenticate his presentment of the common-sense 
soldier, in great realistic fiction such as Zola's La Debacle, in 
classic autobiography such as Marbot's Memoirs, and in the 
recorded experiences of English and American generals, notably 
Lord Wolseley and General Horace Porter. People were in- 
clined to laugh Shaw's play out of court as an exercise no more 
serious than that of a " mowing down military ideals with volleys 
of chocolate creams." Yet Shaw knew a man who lived for two 
days in the Shipka Pass on chocolate; while some years later, 
during the Boer war, Queen Victoria presented every soldier 
in the British army with a ration of chocolate — chocolate which 
Liebig pronounced the most perfect food in the world. The 
idea of an officer carrying an empty pistol! And yet Lord 
Wolseley mentions Wo officers who seldom carried any weapons, 
and one of them was Gordon. Bluntschli's hysterical condition 
in the first act finds its analogue in General Porter's account 
describing the condition of his troops after a battle. And 
Bluntschli's delightful description of a cavalry charge finds its 
analogue, not in the Tennysonian Charge of the Light Brigade, 
but in the account of this charge as given by the popular his- 
torian Kinglake; and, as a matter of fact, Shaw's description 

* Compare the reminiscences on the Avenue Theatre production, by 
Mr. Yorke Stephens, who played the part of Bluntschli; Music and the 
Drama, in the Daily Chronicle, November 6th, 1906. It was at the premiere 
at the Avenue Theatre that Shaw, called before the audience, found him- 
self disarmed by lack of opposition. A solitary malcontent in the gallery 
began to boo: Bernard was himself again. Looking up at the belligerent 
oppositionist, he said with an engaging smile: "My friend, I quite agree 
with you — but what are we two against so many?" 

312 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

was taken almost verbatim from an account given privately 
to a friend of Shaw's by an officer who served in the Franco- 
Prussian war. The catalogue might easily be extended; suffice 
it to say that, irrespective of the totality of impression, there 
can be no question of the credibility of the separate incidents 
in the play, which furnished such ready targets for critical 
marksmanship.* 

w^From the dramatic side, Arms and the Man is far less a 
" realistic " comedy than a satiric exposure of the illusions of 
warfare, of love, of romantic idealism. Of course, Shaw im- 
parts an air of pleasing likelihood to the racial traits or char- 
acters, and the local colour of the scenes; and, as Dr. Brandes 
has remarked, in Bernard Shaw's choice of themes one feels 
the mental suppleness of the modern critic, with his ability to 
throw himself sympathetically into different historic periods and 
into the minds of different races. In Arms and the Man, " the 
whole environment is characteristic, the people of most refine- 
ment being proud of washing themselves ' almost every day,' and 
of owning a ' library,' the only one in the district. Everything 
smacks of the Balkan Peninsula, even to the waiting-maid and 
the man-servant, with their half -Asiatic mingling of forward- 
ness and servility." t To be accurate, Shaw sketches in his 
milieu with the very lightest of strokes. Bluntschli might just 

* Compare Shaw's brilliant article, A Dramatic Realist to His Critics, in 
the New Review, September, 1894, appearing two months after the close of 
the run of Arms and the Man at the Avenue Theatre. In A Word about 
Stepniak, in To-Morrow, February, 1896, Mr. Shaw says: "He (Stepniak) 
studiously encouraged me to think well of my own work, and went into 
the questions of Bulgarian manners and customs for me when I was pre- 
paring my play Arms and the Man for the stage as if the emancipation of 
Russia was a matter of comparatively little importance. ... To him I owe 
the assistance I received from that Bulgarian admiral in whose existence 
the public, regarding Bulgaria as an inland State, positively declined to 
believe." 

t Der Dramatiker Bernard Shaw : in Gestalten und Gedanken, by Georg 
Brandes, Miinchen-Langen, 1903. " Human nature is very much the same, 
always and everywhere," Shaw explained. " And when I go over my play 
to put the details right I find there is surprisingly little to alter. Arms and 
the Man, for example, was finished before I had decided where to set the 
scene, and then it only wanted a word here and there to put matters 
straight. You see, I know human nature"! 

313 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

as well have served in a war between Peru and Chili, or Greece 
and Turkey; while for all practical purposes, the scene might 
just as well have been laid along the coasts of Bohemia. I have 
long contended that Arms and the Man was not a play, 
but a light opera ; and now comes Oscar Straus to compose 
the music for the libretto adapted from Shaw's Bulgarian 
fantasy. 

Mr. Shaw once told me that his two friends, Sidney Webb, 
the solid and the practical, and Cunninghame Graham, the 
hidalgesque and fantastic, suggested the contrast between 
Bluntschli and SaranofF. " The identity," he explained, " only 
lies on the surface, of course. I But the true dramatist must' 
always find his contrasts in real life.") And it will be recalled 
that the rodomontade placed with such ludicrous effect in the 
mouth of the Bulgarian braggadocio, had actually been used, 
with equally telling effect, by Mr. Cunninghame Graham in a 
speech in the House of Commons. Shaw promptly stole the 
potent phrase, " I never withdraw," for the sake of its perfect 
style, and used it as a cockade for Sergius the Sublime. The 
great charm of the play consists in the disillusionment of the 
romantic Raina and the sham-idealist Saranoff by the practical 
realism of the common-sense Bluntschli. A Bulgarian Byron, 
Sergius is perpetually mocked by the disparity between his 
imaginative ideals and the disillusions which continually sting 
his sensitive nature. And the true tragedy of the idealist, in the 
Shavian frame of mind, is summed up in his words, " Damna- 
tion ! mockery everywhere ! Everything that I think is mocked 
by everything that I do." And Shaw himself has said : 

" My Bulgarian hero, quite as much as Helmer in A 
DolVs House, was a hero shown from the modern woman's 
point of view. I complicated the psychology by making 
him catch glimpse after glimpse of his o>vn aspect and 
conduct from this point of view himself, as all men are 
beginning to do more or less now, the result, of course, 
being the most horrible dubiety on his part as to whether 
he was really a brave and chivalrous gentleman, or a hum- 
bug and a moral coward. His actions, equally of course, 



^ 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

were hopelessly irreconcilable with either theory. Need 
I add that if the straightforward Helmer, a very honest 
and orinary middle-class man misled by false ideals of 
womanhood, bewildered the public and was finally set down 
as a selfish cad by all the Helmers in the audience, a fortiori 
my introspective Bulgarian never had a chance, and was 
dismissed, with but moderately spontaneous laughter, as a 
swaggering impostor of the species for which contemporary 
slang has invented the term e bounder ' ? " * 

Arms and the Man has laid its hold upon the modern imagina- 
tion, and has been produced all over the world. What more 
delightful than to have seen Bluntschli interpreted by the 
actors of our generation — by Mansfield, with his quaintly dry 
cynicism, by Jarno, with a humour racy of the soil, by Mantzius, 
with scholarly accuracy, by Sommerstorff, with a touch of ro- 
mance! — by Loraine, Nhil, Stephens, Daly. It is quite true 
that the play is loose in form, oscillating between comedy and 
fantastic farce, and that even now it is already beginning to 
" date." But its fantasy, its satire, and its genial philosophy 
will amply suffice to give it a long lease on life.f Shaw's own 
confidence in his power as a dramatist and in the future of the 
play is humorously expressed in characteristic style in the fol- 

* From Shaw's preface to Mr. Archer's The Theatrical World of 1894, 
pp. xxvii-xxviii. In view of the interest manifested in Arms and the 
Man at the time of its first production in 1894, Mr. Archer requested Mr. 
Shaw to say something about it in this preface. 

" 't Arms and the Man has, most appropriately, furnished the "book" 
.for a comic opera, entitled The Chocolate Soldier, written by Bernauer and 
Jacobson, music by Oscar Straus, the popular composer. It was to be 
expected that there would be many " comic " attractions in the adaptation 
of Mr. Shaw's play. Of course, all the complications, such as the incident 
of the incriminating photograph, are multiplied by three: Nicola disappears 
and Louka makes way for Mascha, now the cousin of Raina. In the end 
all are happily mated. In consequence of the " comic variations " from the 
original play, Mr. Shaw insisted that the programme contain a frank 
apology for this "unauthorized parody of one of Mr. Bernard Shaw's 
comedies." First successfully produced at the Theater des Westens, Ber- 
lin, 1909, The Chocolate Soldier, both for the borrowed, if parodied, clever- 
ness, and the delightful music, has since won great popularity through the 
productions of Mr. F. C. Whitney (English version by Mr. Stanislaus 
Stange), in New York (May, 1910) and London (September, 1910). 

315 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

lowing letter written in response to an apologetic note from 
his American agent, Miss Elisabeth Marbury, accompanying a 
meagre remittance for royalties on Arms and the Man: 

" Rapacious Elisabeth Marbury, 

" What do you want me to make a fortune for? Don't 
you know that the draft you sent me will permit me to 
live and preach Socialism for six months? The next time 
you have so large an amount to remit, please send it to me 
by instalments, or you will put me to the inconvenience of 
having a bank account. What do you mean by giving me 
advice about writing a play with a view to the box-office 
receipts? I shall continue writing just as I do now for the 
next ten years. After that we can wallow in the gold 
poured at our feet by a dramatically regenerated public." 

Arms and the Man is an injunction to found our institutions, 
in Shaw's little-understood phrase, not on " the ideals suggested 
to our imagination by our half-satisfied passions," but on a 
"genuinely scientific natural history." 

• A distinguished dramatic critic once said to me that he re- 
garded all of Shaw's works as derivative literature. Shaw's 
first three plays were traced to Ibsen, to De Maupassant, to 
Strindberg ; and won for him the flattering title of the " second- 
hand Brummagem Ibsen " (William Winter) ! And after wit- 
nessing two acts of Arms and the Man at the Avenue Theatre, 
Mr. Archer began to have a misgiving that he had wandered 
by mistake into The Palace of Truth. The relation of the art 
of Bernard Shaw to the art of W. S. Gilbert is one of much 
delicate intricacy; and deserves more than casual mention. 
Shaw has declared that those who regard the function of a 
writer as " creative " are the most illiterate of dupes, that in 
his business he knows me and te, not meum and tuum, and that 
he himself is " a crow who has followed many plows." In a 
vein of mocking acknowledgment, Shaw once spoke of the seri- 
ousness with which he had pondered the jests of W. S. Gilbert. 
^ A careful critical examination of the methods of Shaw and 
Gilbert reveals the undoubted resemblance, as well as the funda- 

316 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

mental dissimilarity, of these two satiric interpreters of human 
nature.* 

One particular incident in Arms and the Man seems to derive 
directly from an incident in Gilbert's Engaged. The scene in 
which Nicola advises Louka, his betrothed, to gain a hold over 
Sergius, marry him ultimately, and so " come to be one of my 
grandest customers, instead of only being my wife and costing 
me money," is but a paraphrase and inversion of that ludicrous 
scene in Engaged, in which " puir little Maggie Macfarlane " 
advises her lover, Angus Macalister, to resign her to Cheviot- 
Hill for the princely consideration of two pounds. Aside from 
this one minor similarity, Arms and the Man is very different 
from a Gilbert play. For purposes of general comparison, 
turn once more to Engaged — which will serve as well as any 
of the works of Gilbert — for this passage : 

Cheviot-Hill (suddenly seeing her) : Maggie, come here. 
Angus, do take your arm from around that 
girl's waist. Stand back, and don't you 
listen. Maggie, three months ago I told 
you I loved you passionately; to-day I tell 
you that I love you as passionately as ever ; 
I may add that I am still a rich man. Can 
you oblige me with a postage-stamp? 

Here, not only is the comic note struck by the juxtaposition of 
two essential incongruities: in addition, the farcicality of the 
idea stamps it as impossible. It is an admirable illustration of 
that exquisite sense of quaint unexpectedness, evoked by the 

* Shaw has been charged with indebtedness, not only to W. S. Gilbert, 
but to earlier topsy-turvyists. In April, 1906, there appeared in the New 
York Tribune a " deadly parallel " between A rms and the Man and Used 
Up, adapted from the French by Charles Mathews in 1845. As a matter 
of fact, the passage cited — Bluntschli's proposal for the hand of Raina 
(compared with Sir Charles Coldstream's for the hand of Lady Clutter- 
buck) — is neither an imitation of Mathews, nor a triumph of eccentric in- 
vention, but a paraphrase, Shaw unqualifiedly asserts, of an actual proposal 
made by an Austrian hotel proprietor for the hand of a member of Mr. 
Shaw's own family. 

317, 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

plays of both Gilbert and Shaw. Take now a scene of some- 
what cognate appeal in Arms and the Man. In both scenes the 
bid is for sudden laughter, through the startle of surprise. 
Bluntschli flatly tells Raina to her face that he finds it impossi- 
ble to believe a single thing she says. 

Raina (gasping) : I ! I ! ! ! (She points to herself incredu- 
lously, meaning, " J, Raina Petkoff, tell lies! " He 
meets her gaze unflinchingly. She suddenly sits down 
beside him, and adds, with a complete change of man- 
ner from the heroic to the familiar.) How did you 
find me out? 
Bluntschli (promptly) : Instinct, dear young lady. In- 
stinct, and experience of the world. 
Raina (wonderingly) : Do you know, you are the first man 

I ever met who did not take me seriously? 
Bluntschli : You mean, don't you, that I am the first man 

that has ever taken you quite seriously? 
Raina: Yes, I suppose I do mean that. (Cosily, quite at 
her ease with him.) How strange it is to be talked 
to in such a way ! . . . 

Gilbert employs a device of the simplest mechanism, giving 
merely the shock of unexpected contrast. Shaw's spiritual ad-^/ 
venture is an excogitated bit of psychology, of intellectual con- 
tent and rational crescendo. It is the Shavian trick of putting 
into dialogue the revealing, accusatory words seldom spoken in 
real life. 

This calls to mind a resemblance — with a difference — between 
Shaw and Gilbert. In Gilbert's The Palace of Truth each char- 
acter indulges in frank self-revelation. Enchanted by the spell 
of a certain locality, everyone is compelled to speak his whole 
thought without disguise, under the delusion that he is only 
indulging in the usual polite insincerities. All this self-analysis 
and self -exposure goes for naught but to evoke laughter; for, 
lacking either profound insight into human nature or cynical 
distrust of humanity, Gilbert is incapable cf trenchant gen- 
eralization. In Shaw's plays, people play the game of " Truth " 

318 



THE PLAYWRIGHTV-I 

for all there is in it ; and perhaps Shaw's greatest capacity is the 
capacity for generalization. Shaw's incomparable superiority \r 
to Gilbert consists in his acute perception and subtle delineation 
of the comic, and often tragic, inconsistencies of genuine human 
character. Shaw has succeeded in revealing certain subcon- 1 ^ 
scious sides of human nature that usually remain hidden because 
dramatists fail to put into the mouths of their creations the 
real thoughts that clamour for expression. One almost always 
hears their superficial selves speaking solely through the voluble 
medium of society or the reticent medium of self. 
v/ Not only in philosophic grasp, but also in imagination, does 
Shaw excel Gilbert; an incident will suffice to explain. Mr. 
John Corbin once told me that in comparing Shaw and Gilbert, 
he had instanced to Mr. Henry Arthur Jones the play of Pyg- 
malion and Galatea, as showing that, after all, Gilbert had a 
heart and an imagination for beauty. " Ah, yes ! " replied Mr. 
Jones. " But Gilbert never could have written that line in 
Casar and Cleopatra: 

Cesar: What has Rome to show me that I have not seen 
already? One year of Rome is like another, ex- 
cept that I grow older, whilst the crowd in the 
Appian way is always the same age." 

Philosophically speaking, Gilbert's characters accept without 
question the current ideals of life and conduct ; and make ludi- 
crous spectacles of themselves in the effort to live up to them. 
y Shaw's creations discover the hollowness and vanity of these 
same current ideals, and gain freedom in escape from their 
obsession. As Mr. Walkley once put it : " Gilbertism consists in 
the ironic humour to be got out of the spectacle of a number 
of people hypocritically pretending, or naively failing, to act 
up to ideals which Mr. Gilbert and his people hold to be valid. 
. . . Shavianism consists in the ironic humour to be got out of 
the spectacle of a number of people trying to apply the current 
ideas only to find in the end that they won't work." * Let us 

*Mr. Bernard Shaw's Plays, in Frames of Mind (Grant Richards, Lon- 
don, 1889), p. 47. 

319 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

have done with rating of Shaw as a cheap imitator of Gilbert. 
It is quite true that Gilbert anticipated Shaw by many years 
in the use of the device of open confession — the characters 
naively " making a clean breast " of things ; but the device was 
handed on to Shaw for legitimate use instead of for farcical 
misuse. In any deep sense, Shaw owes nothing to Gilbert; and 
his paradoxes, unlike Gilbert's, are the outcome of a profound 
study of human nature and of contemporary civilization. " Gil- 
bert would have anticipated me," Mr. Shaw once assured me, 
" if he had taken his paradoxes seriously. But it does not 
seem to have occurred to him that he had found any real flaw 
in conventional morality — only that he had found out how to 
make logical quips at its expense. His serious plays are all 
conventional. Most of the revolutionary ideas have come up 
first as jests ; and Gilbert did not get deeper than this stage." 
Arms and the Man is the first of four plays which I class 
v in a category by themselves — the plays constructed in the loose 
and variegated comedic form, presumably designed to be " pop- 
ular " and to amuse the public, fantastically treated, and im- 
bued with a mild philosophy held strictly implicit.* These four 
plays are Arms and the Man, You Never Can Tell, How He 
Lied to Her Husband and Captain Brassbound's Conversion. In 
You Never Can Tell Shaw deliberately made concessions to that 
coy monster, the British public. Thitherto he had in large 
measure disdained the task of complying with the demands of 
London audiences for a popular comedy, combining his oft- 
praised cynical brilliancy and his talent for " giving furiously 
to think," with his unquestioned ability to amuse. Shaw's real- 
ization of the truth of Moliere's words : " Cest une Strange 
entreprise que celle de faire rire les honnetes gens," did not in 
the least deter him from embarking upon this perilous under- 
taking. In You Never Can Tell he gave himself up wholly to 
the hazardous task, tentatively inaugurated in Arms and the 
Man, of attempting to amuse that public which had so per- 
sistently refused, so defiantly scorned, his instruction. You 
Never Can Tell was Shaw's propitiatory sacrifice to recalcitrant 

* By this method of treatment, chronology is of necessity sacrificed to 
logic. 

320 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

London. Strange to say, this deliberate concession to popular 
demand even his most lenient censors refused to validate.* Lon- 
don, matching Shaw for whimsicality, was no whit propitiated 
by his proposal of a mariage de convenance with that doubtful 
character, public opinion. Shaw has taken Shakespeare himself 
to task for pandering to public taste in a play coolly entitled 
As You Like It. When the " Dramatist of Donnybrook Fair," 
as Mr. Corbin calls him, sets out to write As You Like It, what 
is the result? "You Never Can Tell!" It was nine years 
before Shaw was able to change his tentative and dubious, " You 
Never Can Tell ! " into a triumphant, " I told you so ! " 

" I think it must have been in the year 1895," one reads in 
some reminiscences by Mr. Cyril Maude, the well-known English 
actor, " that the devil put it into the mind of a friend of mine 
to tempt me with news of a play called Candida, by a writer 
named Bernard Shaw, of whom until then I had never heard." f 
Mr. Maude wrote to Shaw, suggesting that he be allowed to see 
the play in question. In characteristic vein, the author replied 
that the play would not suit the needs of the Haymarket The- 
atre, offering, however, to write a new play instead; which Mr. 
Maude protests he never asked Shaw to do, yet to which he 
interposed no objection. Whereupon Shaw took a chair in Re- 
gent's Park for the whole season, and sat there, in the public 
eye, we are told, writing the threatened play. 

It was not until the winter of 1897 that this play, You Never 
Can Tell, came into Mr. Maude's hands. It was accepted, and 
actually put into rehearsal. From that very moment things 
began to go wrong. Shaw proposed impossible casts, dictated ^^ 

* Preferring to see Shaw fail seriously rather than succeed farcically, Mr. 
Archer sternly admonished him to "quit his foolishness"; and Mr. Shaw's 
former champion of Independent Theatre days, Mr. J. T. Grein, gently but 
firmly advised him never again to send up any more such ballons d'essai. 

t The Haymarket Theatre (Grant Richards, London, 1903). Chapter 
XIV. (from which the above and following quotations are taken), Mr. 
Maude says, " was sent to me as an aid to the completion of this work. It 
professes to deal with that period of our management when we rehearsed 
a piece by the brilliant Mr. Bernard Shaw. The writer, I am assured, is 
well fitted to deal with that period. I leave it to the reader to judge, and 
to guess its authorship." Needless to say that the author was Bernard 
Shaw himself! 

321 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

\/to each actor in turn, equalled his own John Tanner in endless 
and torrential talk. Actor after actor, led by the genial Jack 
Barnes, withdrew in fatigue and disgust. One day Shaw in- 
sulted the entire cast and the entire profession by wanting a 
large table on the stage, on the ground that the company would 
fall over it unless they behaved as if they were coming into 
a real room instead of, as he coarsely observed, " rushing to 
the float to pick up the band at the beginning of a comic song." 

After a first reading of the manuscript, Mr. Maude's mis- 
givings had been aroused to such an extent that he went to Shaw 
and plainly told him that certain lines would have to be cut out. 

" Oh, no ! " replied Shaw. " I really can't permit that." 

" But in this shape," protested the alarmed actor-manager, 
" the play can never be produced." 

" My dear fellow, you delight me," was the truly Shavian 
reply. 

It was unbearable to the cast to be lectured and grilled un- 
mercifully by a red-headed Mephistopheles dressed like a " fairly 
respectable carpenter " in a suit of clothes that looked as though 
it had originally been made of brown wrapping paper. The 
rehearsals continued, however, with the entire cast in a state of 
the most profound dejection. 

" The end came suddenly and unexpectedly. We had made a 
special effort to fulfil our unfortunate contract. . . . We were 
honestly anxious to retrieve the situation by a great effort, and 
save our dear little theatre from the disgrace of a failure. 

" Suddenly the author entered, in a new suit of clothes!! " 
Nobody who had seen Shaw sitting there day after day in a 
costume which the least self-respecting plasterer would have dis- 
carded months before could possibly have understood the devas- 
tating effect of the new suit upon the minds of the spectators. 
" That this was a calculated coup de theatre I have not the 
slightest doubt." Shaw played the part of benevolent rescuer, 
and the play was withdrawn. " I met him in Gar rick Street 
not long ago and noticed that he still wore the suit which he 
had purchased in 1897 in anticipation of the royalties on You 
Never Can Tell! " 

The only thanks that people give me for not * boring 

322 



Nfi 

J' 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

them,' " Shaw once said, " is that they laugh delightedly for 
three hours at the play that has cost many months of hard 
labour, and then turn round and say that it is no play at all 
and accuse me of talking with my tongue in my cheek. And 
then they expect me to take them seriously i " No one can 
accuse Shaw of taking the world seriously in You Never Can 
Tell. Never was more playful play, more irresponsible fun. It 
is all a pure game of cross-purposes, a contest of intellectual 
motives, a conflict of ideas and sentiments. 

This play is especially interesting to me because it was the 
first of Shaw's plays I saw produced, and led me to a study of 
his works. And yet I should be the last to deny that it is a 
farce, in which fun as a motive takes precedence over delinea- 
tion of character. The characters are no more faithful to 
actuality than is the dialogue to ordinary conversation. Indeed, 
the play is almost a new genre, differing from the ordinary 
farce, in which action predominates over thought, in the respect 
that here thought, or rather vivacious mentalization, takes pre- 
cedence over everything — the antics are psychical, not physical. 
Shaw maintains, not that the play is a comedy, but that it is 
cast in the ordinary practical comedy form. I take this to 
mean that Shaw has utilized the stock characters and devices of 
ordinary comedy — not to mention those of farce, burlesque and 
extravaganza! — purely for his own ends, giving them a fresh 
and unique interest by animating them with the infectious mirth 
of his own personality. At last Shaw has found that loosed 
variegated, kaleidoscopic comedic form which freely admits of 
the intrusive antics of the Shavian whimsicality. 

There is not a single play of Shaw's that starts nowhere and-^ 
never arrives; and here the fault is not that the play has no 
meaning, but that it has too many meanings. And it is per- 
haps just as well that there is no clear line of thought-filiation 
running through the play. It is quite possible, as Hervieu 
would say, to " disengage " one, or even several motives, inter- 
linked with one another, from the play. Shaw, however, seems 
content to put everyone on the defensive, to search out the 
weak points in their armour, and to give to each in turn the 
coup de grace. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

* The play is notable in two respects — for its treatment of the 
emotions and for the figure of William. Valentine is the im- 
perfect prototype of John Tanner. His sole equipment is his 
tongue; instead of a conscience and a heart, he has only a 
brain. George Ade would have called him " Gabby Val, the con- 
versational dentist." Gloria succumbs to the scientific wooing 
of the new " duellist of sex " ; her armour of frigid reserve, the 
heritage of twentieth-century precepts, melts before the cal- 
culated warmth of Valentine's advances. After allowing her to 
belong to herself for years, Nature now seizes her and uses her 
for Nature's own large purposes. And Valentine, but now the 
triumphant victor in the duel of sex, realizes when it is too late 
that, after all, he is only the victimized captive. All comedies 
end with a wedding, because it is then that the tragedy begins ! 
The real distinction of the play consists in Shaw's portrayal of 
his conception of love as it exhibits itself in the contemporary 
human being. As Mr. Walkley has put it, love, in Shaw's view, 
is not, as with Chamfort, the echange de deux fantaisies, but 
the echange de deux explications. With Shaw, the symbol of 
love is not a Cupid blindfold, but the alertest of Arguses. His 
intellectual reflection of the erotic illusion exhibits neither 
tender sentiment, emotive abandon, nor sexual passion. Shaw's 
lovers, as Mr. Desmond MacCarthy has pertinently put it, 
" instead of using the language of admiration and affection, in 
which this sexual passion is so often cloaked, simply convey by 
their words the kind of mental tumult they are in. Sexual in- 
fatuation is stripped bare of all the accessories of poetry and 
sympathy. It is represented as it is by itself, with its own 
peculiar romance, but with none of the feelings which may, and 
often do, accompany it." * 

The one really admirable figure in the play is the immortal 
William. A master figure of classic, rather than modern, com- 
edy, he suggests, with exquisite subtlety, the graceful unob- 
trusiveness that dignifies his calling. Whenever he loses sight 
of his menial position long enough to utter one of his kindly 
bits of philosophy, it is always to fade back again into the 

* The Court Theatre, 1904-1907, by Desmond MacCarthy (A. H. Bullen, 
London, 1907), p. 57. 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

waiter attitude with such deference and such celerity as to ac- 
centuate the pathos of the contrast between his station and the 
rare humanity of his genial philosophy. 

You Never Can Tell, which Mr. Archer found to be a " form- 
less and empty farce," achieved immense popular success in 
New York and London, has been produced with gratifying 
results throughout German Europe, as well as all over Great 
Britain, and justifies Mr. Norman Hapgood's characterization: 
" The best farce that has been upon the English-speaking stage 
in many years." 

Before turning to the last of the fantastic farce-comedies, I 
would mention very briefly the three little topical pieces which 
exhibit the joker Shaw at his Shawest. First, there is that 
petite comedie rosse, so slight as to be dubbed by Shaw himself 
a " comediettina," How He Lied to Her Husband — written in 
1905 to eke out Mr. Arnold Daly's bill in New York. " I began 
by asking Mr. Shaw to write me a play about Cromwell," re- 
lates Mr. Daly. " The idea appealed to him in his own way. 
He said he thought it good, but then he raced on to suggest 
that we might have Charles the First come on with his head 
under his arm, I pointed out to Shaw that it would be highly 
inconvenient for a man to come on the stage with his head 
under his arm, even if he were an acrobat. Shaw, however, 
said he thought it could be done. In the end, he said he would 
compromise. ' Write the first thirty-five minutes of that play 
yourself,' said he, ' and let me write the last five minutes.' " * 
What a convenient recipe for Shaw's formula of anti-climax! 
The point of the little topsy-turvy, knockabout farce is the re- 
ductio ad absurdum of the " Candidamaniacs " ; but the penny- 
a-liners usually paragraphed it as a travesty on Shaw's own 
play of Candida. Shaw finally cabled : " Need I say that anyone 
who imagines that How He Lied to Her Husband retracts Can- 
dida, or satirizes it, or travesties it, or belittles it in any way, 
understands neither the one nor the other? " This comediettina 
is a bright little skit, but it is no more amusing than it is untrue 
to the intellectuels who made Candida a success in New York 

* Post-Express (Rochester, N. Y.), December 3d, 1904. 

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THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

and laid the foundations of Shaw's — and Daly's — success in 
America. 

On July 14th, 1905, in a booth in Regent's Park, London, 
for the benefit of the Actors' Orphanage, was " performed re-.v' 
peatedly, with colossal success," a " tragedy," entitled Passion, 
Poison and Petrifaction; or The Fatal Gazogene, written by 
Shaw at the request of Mr. Cyril Maude. It is an extravagant 
burlesque on popular melodrama, and the main incident of the 
" tragedy " is the petrifaction of the hero caused by swallowing 
a lot of lime as an antidote to the poison administered to him 
by the jealous husband of his inamorata, Lady Magnesia Fitz- 
tollemache. " The play has a funny little history," Mr. Shaw 
told me, " having its origin in a story I once made up for one 
of the Archer children. In the early days of William Archer's 
married life I was down there one night, and one of the chil- 
dren asked me to tell him a story. ' What about ? ' I asked. 
* A story about a cat,' was the eager reply. It seems that at 
one time my aunt was interested in making little plaster-of-paris 
figures; and one day the cat came along, and, thinking it was 
milk, lapped up some of the moist plaster-of-paris. And so 
the sad result, as I told the Archer children, was that the poor 
cat petrified inside. ' And what did they do with the cat ? ' one 
of the children asked. ' Well, you see,' I replied, { one of the 
doors of the house would never stay shut, so my mother kept the 
cat there ever afterwards to hold the door shut.' The funny 
part of it all was that Mrs. Archer said that she had caught me 
in a lie — and to her own children at that. To this day she never 
believes a single thing I say ! " 

" Passion, Poison and Petrifaction is, of course, the most utter 
nonsense," Shaw continued. " But, would you believe it," — 
with a chuckle — " it was recently successfully produced in 
Vienna, and seriously praised as a characteristic play of the 
brilliant Irish dramatist and Socialist, Bernard Shaw ! " * 

Slightest of all three is The Interlude at The Playhouse, 

* Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction; or the Fatal Gazogene; originally 
appeared in Harry Furniss's Christmas Annual for 1905 (Arthur Treherne 
and Co. Ltd., Adelphi, London), pp. 11-24, with illustrations by Mr. Harry 
Furniss. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

written for Mr. and Mrs. Cyril Maude, and delivered by them at 
the opening of The Playhouse, Mr. Maude's new theatre, on 
Monday, January 28th, 1907.* The little piece extracts all the 
comedy to be got out of the embarrassment of an actor-manager 
over having to deliver a certain speech, and the solicitude of his 
wife in making an appeal to the audience on his behalf, but 
without his knowledge, for sympathy and encouragement. The 
genuine delicacy and lightness of touch with which the situation 
is handled, and the absence of Shavian intrusiveness, unite in 
making of the interlude a little gem, quite perfect of its 
kind. 

The last ©f the comedies of character is Captain Brassbound's 
Conversion, classified by Shaw as one of the Three Plays for 
Puritans, This play might never have been written, but for 
the fact that Ellen Terry made no secret of the fact that she S' 
was born in 1848. When her son, Gordon Craig, became a 
father, Ellen Terry, according to Shaw, said that now no one 
would ever write plays for a grandmother! Shaw immediately 
wrote Captain Brassbound's Conversion to prove the contrary. 
And seven years later Ellen Terry portrayed Lady Cicely 
Waynflete with a charm, a waywardness, and a grace that gave 
pleasure to thousands in England and America. 

Just as, in The Devil's Disciple, Shaw reduces the melo- 
dramatic form to absurdity, so in Captain Brassbound's Con- 
version does he reduce to absurdity the melodramatic view of 
life. The scene of the play is an imaginary Morocco, a second- 
hand, fantastic image vicariously caught for Shaw by Mr. 
Cunninghame Graham. Not only did Shaw want to write a 
good part for Ellen Terry: he also wanted to write a good 
play. So he wrote a whimsical fantasy, half melodrama, half 
extravaganza, conditioned only by his own mildly philosophic 
bent and the need for developing Lady Cicely's character. The 
result, as he is fond of saying, is simply a story of conversion 
— a Christian tract! 

The protagonist, the pirate Brassbound, orders his life upon 

* The text of this dainty little interlude is to be found in the Daily Mail, 
January 29th, 1907. Mr. and Mrs. Maude were playing in Toddles at the 
time. 

328 



S 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

the principle that, as Bacon puts it, " revenge is a sort of wild 
justice." He is imbued with mediaeval concepts of right and 
wrong. In opposition to him, he discovers his opposite— a cool, 
tactful, unsentimental woman of the world, disarming all op- 
position through her Tolstoyism. With sympathetic interest, 
she soon wins from Brassbound the secret of his life, and with 
quiet and delicious satire, opens his eyes to the pettiness of his 
mock-heroics, the absurdity of the melodramatic view-point — the 
code of the Kentucky feud, the Italian vendetta. The revulsion 
in Brassbound is instant and complete: he is wholly disarmed 
by the discovery that, instead of being the chosen instrument 
for the wild justice of lynch-law, he is only a ridiculous two- 
pence coloured villain. 

" My uncle was no worse than myself — better, most likely," 
is his final confession to Lady Cicely. " Well, I took him for 
a villain out of a story-book. My mother would have opened 
anybody else's eyes: she shut mine. I'm a stupider man than 
Brandyfaced Jack even; for he got his romantic nonsense out 
of his penny numbers and such-like trash; but I got just the 
same nonsense out of life and experience." 

Lady Cicely Waynflete is the most charming woman that 
Shaw has ever drawn. Shaw has intimated that he found in 
the friendship of Ellen Terry, who served as the model for Lady 
Cicely, the " best return which could be expected from a gifted, 
brilliant and beautiful woman, whose love had already been given 
elsewhere, and whose heart had witnessed thousands of tempta- 
tions." * In speaking of the character of Lady Cicely Wayn- 
flete, Miss Florence Farr once said : " As a sex, women must be 

* The figure of Lady Cicely Waynflete possesses an unique interest in view 
of the fact conveyed in the following record of Ellen Terry's : " At this 
time (1897), Mr. Shaw and I frequently corresponded. It began by my 
writing to ask him, as musical critic of the Saturday Review (!), to tell 
me frankly what he thought of the chances of a composer-singer friend 
of mine. He answered ' characteristically,' and we developed a perfect 
fury for writing to each other. Sometimes the letters were on business, 
sometimes they were not, but always his were entertaining, and mine were, 
I suppose, * good copy,' as he drew the character of Lady Cicely Waynflete 
in Brassbound entirely from my letters. He never met me until after the 
play was written." From Lewis Carroll to Bernard Shaw, in McClure's 
Magazine, September, 1908. 

329 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

for ever grateful to Miss Ellen Terry for teaching Mr. Shaw 
that lesson about woman." Nothing could be simpler or more 
effective than the secret of command possessed by this charm- 
ing woman. She knows that to go straight up to people, with 
hand outstretched and a frank " How d'ye do ? " is all that i§ 
needed to win their confidence. The dastardly sheikh, into 
whose hands she is about to be delivered, is stupefied and " almost 
persuaded," when she assures her friends that he will treat her 
like one of Nature's gentlemen : " Look at his perfectly splendid 
face ! " Combining as she does the temperament of Ellen Terry 
with the genial esprit of Bernard Shaw, Lady Cicely is a thor- 
oughly delightful and unique type of the eternal feminine. She 
is just at the " age of charm," her actions are unhampered by 
sentiment, and her chief attractions are frank naivete, the trait 
of attributing the best of qualities to other people, and an 
innocent assumption of authority that quietly pinions all oppo- 
sition. She always manages to do just what she likes because 
she is bound by no ties to her fellow-creatures, save the bonds 
of sympathy and innate human kindness. In one respect is 
she a true Shavienne: toward law, convention, propriety, 
prejudice, she takes an attitude of quaintly humorous scepti- 
cism. What a delicious touch is that when Sir Howard protests 
that she has made him her accomplice in defeating justice! 
" Yes," is her delightfully feminine reply : " aren't you glad 
it's been defeated for once ? " 

\s The moral of this charming but very slight and superficially 
fantastic play is that revenge is not wild justice, but childish 
melodrama, and that the justice of the courts of law, enforced 
by melodramatic sentences of punishment, is often little else 
than a very base sort of organized revenge. The fable is rather 
trivial; and the long arm of coincidence puts its finger into 
the pie more than once, playing that part of timely interven- 
tion at which Shaw is so fond of railing. The mixture of 
Shavian satire with Tolstoyan principles is both novel and 
piquant ; and the mildly Ibsenic ending is a good " curtain " — 
Brassbound discovering at last the secret of command, i.e., 
selflessness and disinterested sympathy, and Lady Cicely ec- 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— I 

statically felicitating herself upon her escape from — the bonds 
of love and matrimony. 

One other feature of the play is the hideous language of 
the cockney, Felix Drinkwater, alias Brandyfaced Jack. It 
takes quite an effort, even with the aid of the key which Shaw 
has considerately appended, to decipher the jargon of this un- 
happy hooligan, " a nime giv' us pore thortless lads baw a gint 
on the Dily Chronicle." In Drinkwater, Shaw sought to fix 
on paper the dialect of the London cockney, and he once told 
me that he regarded this as the only accurate effort of the 
kind in modern fiction. Interested in the study of phonetics 
through his acquaintance and friendship with that " revolu- 
tionary don " and academic authority, Henry Sweet of Oxford, 
Shaw put his knowledge to work to represent phonetically the 
lingo of the Board-School-educated cockney. " All that the 
conventional spelling has done," Shaw once said in one of his 
numerous journalistic controversies, " is to conceal the one 
change that a phonetic spelling might have checked; namely, 
the changes in pronunciation, including the waves of debase- 
ment that produced the half -rural cockney of Sam Weller, and 
the modern metropolitan cockney of Drinkwater in Captain 
Brassbound's Conversion. . . . Refuse to teach the Board 
School legions your pronunciation, and they will force theirs 
on you by mere force of numbers. And serve you right ! " 



331 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

" I have, I think, always been a Puritan in my attitude towards Art. I 
am as fond of fine music and handsome buildings as Milton was, or Crom- 
well, or Bunyan; but if I found that they were becoming the instruments 
of a systematic idolatry of sensuousness, I would hold it good statesman- 
ship to blow every cathedral in the world to pieces with dynamite, organ 
and all, without the least heed to the screams of the art critics and cultured 
voluptuaries." — Why for Puritans? Preface to Three Plays for Puritans, 
p. xix. 

" I do not satirize types. I draw individuals as they are. When I 
describe a tub, Archer and Walkley say it is a satire on a tub." — Con- 
versation with the author. 



CHAPTER XI 

CAESAR AND CLEOPATRA, unique in Bernard Shaw's 
theatre, alike in subject matter and genre, warrants indi- 
vidual consideration. To an interviewer, on April 30th, 1898, 
Shaw related that he was just in the middle of the first act of a 
new play, in which he was going " to give Shakespeare a lead." 
Unlike Oscar Wilde, who once said that the writing of plays 
for a particular actor or actress was work for the artisan in 
literature, not for the artist, Shaw freely confessed that he 
wrote Caesar and Cleopatra for Forbes Robertson, " because he 
is the classic actor of our day, and had a right to require such 
a service from me." * Asked if he had not been reading up 
" Mommsen and people like that," Shaw replied, " Not a bit 
of it. History is only a dramatization of events. And if I 
start telling lies about Caesar, it's a hundred to one that they will 
be just the same lies that other people have told about him. 
. . . Given Caesar and a certain set of circumstances, I know 
what would happen, and when I have finished the play you will 
find I have written history." f 

In an opening scene of rare beauty and mystery, Caesar dis- 
covers the child-truant Cleopatra reclining between the paws of 
her " baby-sphinx." What possibilities, what previsions are 
packed in this prophetic hour, which witnesses the meeting of 
these two supreme representatives of two alien worlds, two 
diverse civilizations ! From the sublime we are hurled down to 
the ridiculous. Caesar, dreamer and world-conquerer, apos- 

* Bernard Shaw and the Heroic Actor, in The Play, No. 62, Vol. X. In 
this same article Shaw says: "No man writes a play without any reference 
to the possibility of a performance: you may scorn the limitations of the 
theatre as much as you please; but for all that you do not write parts for 
six-legged actors or two-headed heroines, though there is great scope for 
drama in such conceptions." 

•fMr. Shaw's Future: A Conversation, in the Academy, April 30th, 1898. 
This interview is signed "C. R."— presumably Clarence Rook. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

trophizing the sphinx in the immemorial moonlight of Egypt, 
is suddenly f eazed out of countenance by a childish voice : " Old 
gentleman! — don't run away, old gentleman." It is the voice 
of Shaw to his public : " I may take unpardonable liberties 
with you; but — don't run away." 

In the main, Shaw follows, as far as time, place and historical 
events go, such facts of history as are to be found in Plutarch 
and in Be Bello Gallico; in every other respect the play is 
modern, colloquially modern, in tone and in spirit. Shaw ap- 
proaches his theme under the domination of an idee fiwe: scorn 
of tradition and of the science of history. The notion that there 
has been any progress since the time of Caesar is absurd! In- 
creased command over Nature by no means connotes increased 
command over self; if there has been any evolution, it has been 
in our conceptions of the meaning of greatness. When Shaw 
wrote his celebrated preface Better than Shakespeare? he had 
a very definite claim to make; that his Caesar and Cleopatra 
are more credible, more natural, to a modern audience, than are 
the imaginative projections of a Shakespeare. Shaw maintains 
that, in manner and art, nobody can write better than Shake- 
speare, " because, carelessness apart, he did the thing as well 
as it can be done within the limits of human faculty." But 
Shaw did profess to have something to say by this time that 
Shakespeare neither said nor dreamed of. " Allow me to set 
forth Caesar in the same modern light," pleads Shaw, in speak- 
ing of the hero-restorations of Carlyle and Mommsen, " taking 
the same liberty with Shakespeare as he with Homer, and with no 
thought of pretending to express the Mommsenite view of 
Caesar any better than Shakespeare expressed a view that was 
not even Plutarchian. . . . " * " Shakespeare's Caesar is the 
reductio ad absurdum of the real Julius Caesar," Mr. Shaw once 
remarked to me ; " my Caesar is a simple return to nature and 
history." 

Are there many cases in dramatic psychology, asked M. Filon, 
as interesting as the liaison which would have had " Caesarion " 
as result? But in Casar and Cleopatra, there is no battle of 

* Better than Shakespeare? Preface to Three Plays for Puritans. 

336 




► Eduard J. Steiclun.] 



IN CONSULTATION, 



From the original monochrome, made at 10, Adelphi Terrace, London, W.C. 
August, 1907. . 1 



[Facing p. 332 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

love, no dramatic conflict. Shaw might have produced a drama 
of the nations, in which the cunning intrigues of Egypt are 
matched against the forthrightness and efficiency of the Ro- 
mans; or a drama of passion, charged to the full with poetic 
imagination. But he has availed himself neither of the his- 
toric sense, in which he appears to be deficient, nor of the ro- 
mantic violence of poetic imagination, against which he rages 
with puritanical fervour. Shaw calls the play a " history " ; 
certainly it is not a " drama " in the technical sense.* And yet, 
despite the numerous longueurs of the play, the pyrotechnic 
flashes of wit which only barely suffice to conceal the fact that 
the action is marking time, the exciting incidents which sep- 
arately give a semblance of activity to the piece, there is a 
genuine thread of motive connecting scene with scene. 

CcBsar and Cleopatra is, from one point of view, a study in 
the evolution of character; and this play, and Major Barbara, 
are the only exceptions to Shaw's theatre of static character. 
The psychological action of the piece consists in the evolution, 
under the guiding hand of Caesar, of the little Egyptian sensu- 
alist, in the period of plastic adolescence. Caesar has the weak 
fondness of an indulgent uncle for the adolescent Cleopatra, 
with her strange admixture of childish mauvaise honte and regal 
covetousness. Realizing with the instinct of a king-maker 
Cleopatra's dangerous possibilities as a ruler, Caesar exercises 
upon her the plastic and determinative force of an architect 
of states. Slowly the little Cleopatra learns her lesson, glories 
in her newly-won power, tyrannizes inhumanly over all about 
her, and eventually — with well-nigh disastrous effects to her- 
self — endeavours to teach her teacher the true secret of 
dominion. 

From another point of view, this play is the portrait of a 
hero in the light of Shavian psychology — a hero in undress 



* In Berlin the play was given in its entirety at the Neues Theater ; 
in London, at the Savoy Theatre, it proved quite feasible to give the play 
omitting the entire third act. And yet the third act, according to M. Jean 
Blum (Revue Germanique, November-December, 1906), contains the dra- 
matic climax! Compare also, Dramatische Rundschau, by Friedrich Dusel, 
Weaterinarm's Monatshefte, June, 1906. 

337 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

costume, in his dressing-gown as he lived, with all his trivial 
vanities and endearing weaknesses. The halo of the " pathos 
of distance," surrounding the head of the demi-god, wholly 
fades away; and there stands before us a real man, shorn of 
the romantic, the histrionic, the chivalric, it is true, but a real 
man, every inch of him, for all that. Shaw clearly draws the 
distinction : 

" Our conception of heroism has changed of late years. 
The stage hero of the palmy days is a pricked bubble. 
The gentlemanly hero, of whom Tennyson's King Arthur 
was the type, suddenly found himself out as Torvald 
Helmer in Ibsen's DolVs House, and died of the shock. It 
is no use now going on with heroes who are no longer 
really heroic to us. Besides, we want credible heroes. The 
old demand for the incredible, the impossible, the super- 
human, which was supplied by bombast, inflation, and the 
piling of crimes on catastrophes and factitious raptures 
on artificial agonies, has fallen off; and the demand now 
is for heroes in whom we can recognize our own humanity, 
and who, instead of walking, talking, eating, drinking, 
making love and fighting single combats in a monotonous 
ecstasy of continuous heroism, are heroic in the true human 
fashion: that is, touching the summits only at rare mo- 
ments, and finding the proper level of all occasions, con- 
descending with humour and good sense to the prosaic 
ones as well as rising to the noble ones, instead of ridicu- 
lously persisting in rising to them all on the principle that 
a hero must always soar, in season or out of season." * 

Mr. Forbes Robertson recently said that he regarded Caesar 
and Cleopatra as a " great play," representing very truly what 
one would imagine Caesar said, thought and felt. " Possibly 
the play is before its time — some people have said such curious 
things about it. There are scenes of wonderful brilliancy and 
beautjr, and I myself see nothing farcical about the play, as 

* Bernard Shaw and the Heroic Actor, in The Play, No. 62, Vol. X. 

338 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

some people seem to suggest. I see a great wit and humour; 
and, as Mr. Shaw points out, by what right are we to pre- 
suppose that Caesar had no sense of humour? He meets this 
amusing little impudent girl, and is very much amused with 
her, and interested in her, quite naturally as a human being. 
Why should one expect him to go strutting about, with one 
arm in his toga and the other extended, spouting dull blank 
verse? " Indeed, Shaw's Caesar is a remarkable personality — in 
practice a man of business sagacity; in politics, a dreamer; in 
action, brilliant and resourceful; in private, a trifle vain and 
rhetorical — boyish, exuberant, humorous. When Pothinus ex- 
presses amazement that the conqueror of the world has time to 
busy himself with taxes, Caesar affably replies : " My friend, 
taxes are the chief business of a conqueror of the world." 

Like Mirabeau, he had no memory for insults and affronts 
received, and " could not forgive, for the sole reason that — 
he forgot." He answers to Nietzsche's differentia: " Not to be 
able to take seriously for a long time, an enemy, or a mis- 
fortune, or even one's own misdeeds — is the characteristic of 
strong and full natures, abundantly endowed with plastic, 
formative, restorative, also obliterative force." Caesar's policy 
of clemency is constantly thwarted by the murderous passions 
of his soldiers ; the murder of Pompey he contemns as a stroke 
of unpardonable treachery and revenge, the removal of Ver- 
cingetorix very much as Talleyrand regarded the execution of 
the Due d'Enghien : it was worse than a crime, it was a blunder. 
Sufficient unto himself, strong enough to dispense with happi- 
ness, Caesar is — to use a phrase of Mr. Desmond MacCarthy's — 
" content in the place of happiness with a kind of triumphant 
gaiety, springing from a sense of his own fortitude and power." 
Caesar is a thoroughly good fellow, prosaically, patho-comically 
looking approaching old age in the face and wearing his con- 
queror's wreath of oak leaves — to conceal his growing bald 
spot. Were Rome a true republic, Caesar would be the first 
of republicans; he values the life of every Roman in his army 
as he values his own, and makes friends with everyone as he 
does with dogs and children. " Caesar is an important public 
man," as Mr. Max Beerbohm puts it, " who knows that a little 

339 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

chit of a girl-queen has taken a fancy to him, and is tickled by 
the knowledge and behaves very kindly to her, and rather wishes 
he were young enough to love her." But when he is again 
recalled to Rome, Cleopatra concerns him no more. Caesar is 
the Shavian type of the naturally great man — great, not be- 
cause he mortifies his nature in fulfilment of duty, but because 
he fulfils his own will." * 

Casar and Cleopatra, to employ a phrase of the elder Co- 
quelin, is a " combination of the most absolute fantasy with the 
most absolute truth." One feels at times that it belongs in the 
category of Orphee aux Enfers and La Belle Helene, and only 
needs the music of Offenbach to round it out. Shaw shatters the 
illusion of antiquity with a multitude of the stock phrases of 
contemporary history : " Peace with honour," " Egypt for the 
Egyptians," " Art for Art's sake," etc., etc.f True to Shake- 
spearean practice, Shaw revels in anachronisms, and goes so 
far as to assert that this is the only way to make the historic 
past take form and life before our eyes. If Shakespeare makes 
a clock strike in ancient Rome, Shaw shows a steam engine at 

*Cf. Genealogy of Morals (Translated by William A. Hausemann, the 
Macmillan Co.), where Nietzsche points out that in the case of "noble men," 
prudence is far less essential than the "perfect reliableness of function 
of the regulating, unconscious instincts or even a certain imprudence, such 
as readiness to encounter things — whether danger or an enemy, or that 
eccentric suddenness of anger, love, reverence, gratitude and revenge by 
which noble souls at all times have recognized themselves as such." 

•\C03sar and Cleopatra, in respect to its revolt against the dogmas of 
classical antiquity, against the accepted conventions in the reconstitution 
of past epochs, has been classed by Herr Heinrich Stumcke with the Casar 
in Alexandria of Mora and Thoele's Heidnischen Geschichten. In a skit, 
Casar (ohne Cleopatra) , by the German dramatic critic, Alfred Kerr, and 
dedicated " an Bernard Shaw mit freundlichen Grussen," this feature is 
wittily satirized, in these two verses: 

"Konnt ich den Zweck des Blodsinns ahnen! 
Ich fuhrte manchen schweren Streich, 
Bezwang mit Muhe die Germanen — 
Trotzdem kommt Sedan und das Reich. 

"Ein Zauberer, ihr grossen Gotter, 
1st jener nordische Poet; 
Herr Arnold Rubek bleibt mein Vetter: 
Dich, Leben! Leben! spur ich spat. . . ." 

340 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

work in Alexandria in 48 b.c. ! If Shakespeare puts a billiard 
table in Cleopatra's palace, Shaw alludes to the ancient super- 
stition of table-rapping in the year 707 of the Republic ! Shaw 
gives free play to his abounding humour, having long since 
learned that nothing can be accomplished by solemnity. " When- 
ever I feel in writing a play," he frankly confesses, " that my 
great command of the sublime threatens to induce solemnity of 
mind in my audience, I at once introduce a joke and knock the 
solemn people from their perch." The eighteenth-century Irish- 
man, with his contempt for John Bull, peeps out here and there ; 
and when Cleopatra asks Britannus, Cassar's young secretary 
from Britain, if it were true that he was painted all over blue, 
when Caesar captured him, Britannus proudly replies : " Blue is 
the colour worn by all Britons of good standing. In war we 
stain our bodies blue; so that though our enemies may strip 
us of our clothes and our lives, they cannot strip us of our 
respectability." 

In Ccesar and Cleopatra Shaw has created something more 
or less than drama — a tremendous fantasy surcharged and inter- 
penetrated with deep imaginative reality. In certain plays of 
which I shall now speak, Shaw shows that he can play the 
dramatist, pure and simple, and write with a concentration of 
energy, a compression of emotive intensity, that seem very for- 
eign to the prolixity and discursiveness of his later manner. 
The stern artistic discipline to which he nearly succeeded in 
schooling himself in Mrs. Warren's Profession, once more ex- 
hibits itself in The Man of Destiny, Candida and The Devil's 
Disciple. The essential fact that these plays have proved pop- 
ular stage successes in the capitals of the world — New York, 
London, Berlin, Vienna, Dresden, St. Petersburg, Buda-Pesth, 
Brussels, etc. — is in itself testimony to the fact that — always 
allowing for the refraction of the Shavian temperament — Ber- 
nard Shaw is a true dramatist, capable of touching the deeper 
emotions and appealing to universal sentiments. 

In speaking of his earliest works, Shaw airily refers to those 
" vain brilliancies given off in the days of my health and 
strength." Perhaps something of their diffuseness, and the lack 
of concentrative thought evident in their construction, are ex- 

341 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

plained, not alone by reference to Shaw's intransigeance, but 
in part by the conditions under which they were written. A 
bit of reminiscence voiced by the great English comedian, Sir 
Charles Wyndham, is illuminating: 

" I shall never forget the first time Shaw called to see 
me. In those days he would not have a bit of linen about 
him. He wore soft shirts and long, flowing ties, which, 
with his tawny hair and long, red beard, gave him the ap- 
pearance of a veritable Viking. Well, he came in and sat 
down at the table. Then he put his hand into his right 
trousers pocket and slowly drew out a small pocket mem- 
orandum-book; then he dug into the left side-pocket and 
fished out another of the little books, then still another and 
another. Finally, he paused in his explorations, looked at 
me and said : 

" ' I suppose you're surprised to see all these little 
pocket-books. The fact is, however, I write my plays in 
them while riding around London on top of a 'bus.' " * 

The How and Where of the composition of such plays 
might well account for much inconsequence and aerial gid- 
diness ! 

The Man of Destiny has an origin not a little unique. Many 
plays are written for some one great actor or actress — few are 
written for two. And yet, according to Shaw's own confessions, 
The Man of Destiny was written for Richard Mansfield and 
Ellen Terry — Mansfield serving as the model for Napoleon, 
Terry as the model for the Lady. At this time, Shaw had 
seen Mansfield only in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Richard 
III.; and once in 1894 had chatted with him for an hour at 
the Langham. The impression he received was so strong, the 
suggestion of Napoleon so striking, that he resolved to write 
a play about Napoleon based on a study of Mansfield.f 

*The New York Times, November 20th, 1904. 

f " Mansfield was always especially sympathetic with the character of 
Napoleon, and, indeed — however extravagant the statement may seem at 
first glance — his personality comprised some of the attributes of that 
character — stalwart courage, vaulting ambition, inflexible will, resolute self- 

342 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

In a letter to Mansfield (September 8th, 1897), Shaw says: 
" I was much hurt by your contemptuous refusal of A Man of 
Destiny, not because I think it one of my masterpieces, but 
because Napoleon is nobody else but Richard Mansfield himself. 
I studied the character from you, and then read up Napoleon 
and found that I had got him exactly right." * Shaw fre- 
quently corresponded with Ellen Terry during the days he was 
writing The Man of Destiny; he saw her numberless times on 
the stage, but had never actually met her when he wrote The 
Man of Destiny. Shaw escaped the " illusion " of the Lyceum, 
created by " Irving's incomparable dignity and Terry's incom- 
parable beauty " — simply because " I was a dramatist and 
needed Ellen Terry for my own plays. ... I had tried to 
win her when I wrote The Man of Destiny, in which the heroine 
is simply a delineation of Ellen Terry — imperfect, it is true, 
for who can describe the indescribable ! " f 

The Man of Destiny, Shaw, in fact, confesses, was written 
chiefly to exhibit the virtuosity of the two principal characters ; 
and it must be confessed that their virtuosity is so pervasively 
dazzling as occasionally to distract attention from the dramatic 
procedure. The unnamed possibilities of the situation have 
been exploited in the subtlest fashion. This little " fragment " 
is a dramatic tour de force; the rapid shifting of victory from 
one side to the other, the excitingly unstable equilibrium of 
the balance of power, the fierce war of wills are of the very 
essence of true drama. The serious underlying issue, the strug- 
gle of Napoleon for a triumph that spells personal dishonour, 
is a dramatic motive sanctioned by that great classic example, 
the (Edipus Rex. Unlike Sophocles, whose listeners knew in 
advance the story of the ill-fated king, Shaw withholds from 
the spectator any foreknowledge of the outcome ; but the grow- 

confidence, great capacity for labour, iron endurance, promptitude of 
decision, propensity for large schemes, and passionate taste for profusion 
of opulent surroundings." — William Winter's Life and Art of Richard 
Mansfield, Vol. I., pp. 222-223; Moffat, Yard and Co., New York, 1910. 

* Richard Mansfield: The Man and the Actor, by Paul Wilstach, p. 264; 
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1909. 

f Ellen Terry, by Bernard Shaw. Neue Freie Presse, January, 1906; 
English translation, Boston Transcript, January 20th, 1906. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ing curiosity of Napoleon, instantaneously inducing like in- 
quisitiveness on the part of the spectator, is one of the chief 
factors of interest in the play. Early in the development of 
the action, the purpose of the letter is readily guessed by anyone 
familiar with such Napoleonic history as is recorded, for exam- 
ple, in the Memoirs of Barras.* 

As Shaw's Caesar is his interpretation of the great man of 
ancient history, so Napoleon is his interpretation of the great 
man of modern history. Shaw's Napoleon is a strange mixture 
of noble and ignoble impulses. He is strangely imaginative — a 
dreamer in the great sense, with a touch of the superstition of 
a Wallenstein, a great faith in his star. A ravenous beast at 
table, he feverishly gorges his food, while his hair sweeps into 
the ink and the gravy; his absolute obliviousness to surround- 
ings is the mask of tremendous energy of purpose. Gravy an- 
swers the purpose of ink, a grape hull marks a strategic point 
on the map : the mark, not the material, is Napoleon's concern. 
And it is the impreuu of his decisions that so often puts his 
adversaries to rout. M. Filon protests against Shaw's portrait 
of Napoleon as a mere repetition of the caricatures of Gillray 
and the calumniating distortions of the historian Seeley; but 
Shaw's Napoleon is, in great measure, not the Napoleon of 
the glorified Bonapartist chromo, but the Napoleon post-figured 
by his later career. Le Petit Caporal is the ancestor of the 
Emperor Napoleon I. ; and in this early phase, Napoleon may be 
best described in the sneering characterization of the Lady as 
" the vile, vulgar Corsican adventurer." Says Mr. John Cor- 
bin : " The final sensation of the character is of vast unquencha- 
ble energy and intelligence, at once brutally real and sublimely 

* On account of the vagueness of the story in certain details, Mr. John 
Corbin has taken Shaw to task for not stating "who the Lady is and why 
she was so heroically bent on rescuing Napoleon from himself." It suffices 
to know that she is Josephine's emissary, sent to intercept the incriminating 
letter. Her duel with Napoleon is a heroic effort, not to " rescue Napoleon 
from himself," but, by playing upon his boundless ambition, to prevent him 
from discovering the extent of Josephine's perfidy, and to rescue Josephine 
from the consequences of her indiscretion. That the Lady in the end proves 
faithless to her trust merely transposes the key from tragedy to comedy; 
and the dramatic excellence of the play is no whit impaired by this 
characteristically Shawesque conclusion. 

344 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

theatrical. And is not this the great Napoleon? By virtue 
of this mingling of seemingly opposed but inherently true 
qualities this Man of Destiny, for all the impertinences and 
audacities of Mr. Shaw's pyrotechnics, may be reckoned the 
best presentation of Napoleon thus far achieved in the drama, 
as it is certainly by far the most delightful." I asked Mile. 
Yvette Guilbert one day if she thought The Man of Destiny 
would succeed in Paris. " I rather fear not," she replied. 
" Shaw's portrait is too true to the original to suit the 
French!"* 

Towards the close of The Man of Destiny, Napoleon, taking 
for his text the famous phrase : " The English are a nation of 
shop-keepers," launches forth into a perfect torrent of irrele- 
vant histrionic pyrotechnics. " Let me explain the English to 
you," he says, and in Shaw's most Maxim-gun style, proceeds 
to summarize the history of England in the nineteenth century, 
in a half -critical, half -prophetic philippic, beginning with dis- 
cussion of the views of the Manchester School, of British indus- 
trial and colonial policy, and of Imperialism, and concluding 
with allusions to Wellington and Waterloo ! In reading the 
play, this passage appears to be a gross irrelevancy and an 
absurd anachronism; but on the stage the speech appears to 
be quite in character with Shaw's Napoleon. Still, this passage 
calls attention to Shaw's most obvious and most deliberately com- 
mitted fault: self -projection through the medium of his char- 
acters. Shaw identifies himself with his work as possibly no 
other dramatist before him has ever done. I rejoice in Shaw as 
M. Filon rejoices in Dumas fits; selfless reserve, abdication of 
personality, are as impossible for Shaw as for Dumas fits, and 
I freely confess that what I enjoy most in Shaw's plays is — 
Shaw. 

Sir Charles Wyndham was once asked his opinion of the plays 
of Bernard Shaw. " Shaw's works are wonderful intellectual 
studies, but," he replied firmly, " they are not plays ! " And 
he continued : " At one time I saw a great deal of Shaw and 

*I believe that Shaw's Napoleon has never been adequately interpreted 
save possibly by Max Reinhardt in Berlin. The impersonation I saw at 
the Court Theatre, London, in June, 1907, was an egregious failure. 

345 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

had great hopes of him as a dramatist. But he wouldn't come 
down to earth, he wouldn't be practical. When he had just 
completed Candida he came and read it to me. I told him it 
was ' twenty years too soon for England.' Well, he put it on 
at a special matinee, and it was much applauded. Then Shaw 
went out and addressed the audience. ' I read the play to 
Wyndham,' he said in his speech, ' and he told me it was twenty 
years too soon. You have given the contradiction to that state- 
ment.' " Candida has been played on some of the greatest 
stages of Europe, as well as all over England and America, and 
leading critics have praised it as one of the most remarkable 
plays of this generation.* 

Candida is an acute psychological observation upon the emo- 
tional reverberations in the souls of three clearly imagined, ex- 
quisitely realized characters ; its connection with pre-Raphaelit- 
ism, as Mr. Shaw confessed to me, is purely superficial and ex- 
trinsic. Aside from its association with a certain stage in 
Shaw's own development, the character of Marchbanks might 
just as well have been linked with the name of Shelley ,f or with 

*Mr. W. K. Tarpey, who called Candida "one of the masterpieces 
of the world," relates that some time at the end of 1894, or beginning of 
1895, Shaw fell into a calm slumber; in a vision an angel carrying a roll of 
manuscript appeared unto him. To Shaw, who was no whit abashed, the 
angel thus spoke : " Look here, Shaw ! wouldn't it be rather a good idea 
if you were to produce a work of absolute genius? " Shaw granted that the 
idea was not half a bad one, although he did not see how it could be carried 
out. Then the angel resolved his doubts : " I've got a good play here, that 
is to say, good for one of us angels to have written. We want it produced 
in London. The author does not wish to have his name known." " Oh ! " 
replied Shaw, " I'll father it with pleasure ; it is not up to my form, but 
I don't care much for my reputation." Shaw undertook the business side 
of the matter, put in the comic relief, and named the play Candida: a 



f Mr. Arnold Daly was in the habit of opening the third act of Candida 
by reading the familiar verses of Shelley to an unnamed love: 

"One word is too oft profaned 

For me to profane it; 
One feeling too falsely disclaimed 

For thee to disclaim it. 
One hope is too like despair 

For prudence to smother, 
And pity from thee more dear 

Than that from another. 

346 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

the Celtic Renascence of to-day; but the whole atmosphere of 
the play makes it inconceivable at any time in the world's his- 
tory save in the age of Ibsen. It bears marked resemblances 
to The Comedy of Love and The Lady from the Sea. Candida 
portrays the conflict between prose convention and poetic 
anarchy, concretely mirroring that conflict of human wills 
which Brunetiere announced as the criterion of authentic drama. 
" Unity, however desirable in political agitations," Shaw once 
wrote, in reference to this play, " is fatal to drama, since every 
drama must be the artistic presentation of a conflict. The end 
may be reconciliation or destruction, or, as in life itself, there 
may be no end; but the conflict is indispensable: no conflict, 
no drama." 

In striking contrast to many of Shaw's plays which are 
marked by a hyper-natural, almost blatant psychology, Candida 
reveals in Shaw a mastery of what may be termed profound 
psychological secrecy. " This is the play in which Bernard 
Shaw has tried to dig deepest, and has used his material with 
the greatest economy," wrote Dr. Brandes, in 1902. " The 
quietude of the action, which works itself out purely in dialogue, 
is here akin to Ibsen's quietude. . . . There is great depth of 
thought in this play, and a knowledge of the human soul which 
penetrates far below the surface." A domestic drama — little 
more than a " scene from private life " — Candida is the latest 
form of Diderot's invention, the bourgeois drama. Abounding 
in scenes and situations tense with emotional and dramatic 
power, it is stamped with the finish and restraint of great art. 
The characters in this play, so chameleon-like in its changing 
lustres, at every instant turn toward the light new facets of 
their natures. We catch the iridescent and ever-varying tints of 
life ; and over all is a sparkle of fine and subtle humour, lighten- 
ing the tension of soul-conflicts with touches of homely veracity. 
" I can give not what men call love, 

But wilt thou accept not 
The worship the heart lifts above 

And the heavens reject not, 
The desire of the moth for the star, 

Of the night for the morrow, 
The devotion to something afar 

From the sphere of our sorrow?" 

347 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

The " auction scene " of the third act is transcendentally real, 
making an almost imperceptible transition from verisimilitude 
to fantasy.* Indulging his penchant for dialectic, Shaw here 
turns advocate, and argues the case with all the surety of the 
lawyer, the art of the litterateur. Men and women do not 
guide their actions in accordance with the dictates of pure rea- 
son; as Alceste says to Philinte in Le Misanthrope : 

"'Tis true my reason tells me so each day; 
Yet reason's not the power to govern love." 

And, after all, the auction scene is merely the scene a faire, 
leaving the situation absolutely unchanged. As Shaw himself 
once confessed : " It is an interesting sample of the way in which 
a scene, which should be conceived and written only by tran- 
scending the ordinary notion of the relations between the per- 
sons, nevertheless stirs the ordinary emotions to a very high 
degree, all the more because the language of the poet, to those 
who have not the clue to it, is mysterious and bewildering, and, 
therefore, worshipful. I divined it myself before I found out 
the whole truth about it." 

Candida well justifies its sub-title of a Mystery in the number 
of astounding interpretations given it by the critics. In France 
it was regarded as a new solution of the Feminist problem. Can- 
dida remains as the free companion of a weak man, we are told 
by certain foreign critics, because " she understands that she 
has a duty to fulfil to her big baby of a husband, who could no 
longer succeed in playing his role in society without the firm 
hand which sustains and guides him." M. Maurice Muret, who 

*In a notable conference on Candida at the Th6atre des Arts, in Paris, 
preceding a production of that play, during the latter part of May, 1908, 
Mme. Georgette Le Blanc-Maeterlinck said: "La situation du mari n'est 
pas neuve, mais elle se presente ordinairement au troisieme acte, et elle 
est toujours tranchee sans que la conscience intervienne, elle est tranchee 
par la jalousie, par la douleur et la mort. Ici, nous avons affaire a des 
intelligences meilleures, a des §tres qui essayent de se conduire d'apres leur 
raison et leur volonte la plus haute. . . . C'est leur effort de sagesse qui les 
rend absolument illogiques, les soustrait a l'analyse et les rend presque 
inadmissibles a la lecture; mais c'est parce qu'ils sont illogiques, comme 
nous tous, qu'ils sont si vivants, si curieux en scene." — Le Figaro, May 30th, 
1908; also L'Art Moderne, September 20th and 27th, 1908. 

348 



THEME DES IBIS 

(THEATRE OES BATIBNOLLES) 

?$, Boulevard des Satignolles, 79 



asetho : vtt«Lifin8*t%oase 



Tous les Soirs, a 9 heures 



CANDIDA 



Piece en 3 acles, de Bernard SHAW 

Version ttsncaiae d'Augustin el Henrietto SAMON 



VERASERGINE 



DIMANCHES ET FETES 

MATINEE A 2 HEURES 

Tous les Soirs & 9 heures 



VERHN, 41taaB»P«rl« — tmprtiMri* «p«otol« jour Fuhlieltto ih—tral w •* Twr o«m arttfttanMa 

Playbill of Candida. 
Theatre des Arts, Paris. Director: Robert d'Humieres. May 7th, 8th, 
9th, 1908. Twenty-five subsequent performances. Shaw's only play to be 
produced in France to date. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

wrote me that he was induced to read Candida by laudatory 
articles in the German Press after Agnes Sorma's production 
in Berlin, has thus betrayed his comic misunderstanding: 
" From the mass of femmes revoltees who encumber the con- 
temporary drama, the personage of Candida stands out with 
happy distinction. Feminist literature has produced nothing 
comparable to this exquisite figure. A tardy, but brilliant re- 
venge of the traditional ideal upon the new ideal, is this victory 
of la femme selon Titien over the Scandinavian virago, this tri- 
umph of Candida over Nora " ! * And one of the most eminent 
of German dramatic critics, after Lili Petri's production in 
Vienna, said in an open letter to Shaw : " It is not virtue ; not 
prosaically bourgeois, nor vaguely romantic, feeling; nor even 
the strength of this Morell, but simply his weakness, which 
chains Candida to his side: because he needs her, the woman 
loves him more than the young poet, who may perhaps recover 
from his disappointment and learn to live without her. Shaw, 
Bernard, Irishman! I abjure thee!" 

Not only with such interpretations, but even with Shaw's own 
dissection of his greatest play, I find it quite impossible to sym- 
pathize or to agree, Shaw seems merely to be taking a fling at 
the " Candidamaniacs," as he called the play's admirers ; his 
" analysis " strikes me as a batch of Shavian half-truths, rather 
than a fair estimate of the play's true significance. In answer 
to Mr. Huneker's question a propos of Candida's famous 
" shawl " speech, Shaw wrote : 

" Don't ask me conundrums about that very immoral 
female Candida. Observe the entry of W. Burgess : ' You're 
the lady as hused to typewrite for him? ' ' No.' ' Naaow: 
she was younger? ' And therefore Candida sacked her. 
Prossy is a very highly selected young person indeed, de- 
voted to Morell to the extent of helping in the kitchen, but 
to him the merest pet rabbit, unable to get the slightest 
hold on him. Candida is as unscrupulous as Siegfried: 

* De Nora a Candida, by Maurice Muret; Journal des Dibats, No. 544, 
June 24th, 1904, pp. 1216-1218. 

350 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

Morell himself sees that ' no law will bind her.' She seduces 
Eugene just exactly as far as it is worth her while to 
seduce him. She is a woman without character in the 
conventional sense. Without brains and strength of mind 
she would be a wretched slattern or voluptuary. She is 
straight for natural reasons, not for conventional ethical 
ones. Nothing can be more cold-bloodedly reasonable than 
her farewell to Eugene. ' All very well, my lad ; but I don't 
quite see myself at fifty with a husband of thirty-five. 
It is just this freedom from emotional slop, this unerring 
wisdom on the domestic plane, that makes her so com- 
pletely mistress of the situation. 

" Then consider the poet. She makes a man of him by 
showing him his own strength — that David must do with- 
out poor Uriah's wife. And then she pitches in her picture 
of the home, the onions, and the tradesmen, and the cos- 
setting of big baby Morell. The New York Hausfraw 
thinks it a little paradise ; but the poet rises up and says : 
' Out, then, into the night with me ' — Tristan's holy night. 
If this greasy fool's paradise is happiness, then I give 
it to you with both hands, 6 life is nobler than that.' That 
is the 6 poet's secret.' The young things in front weep 
to see the poor boy going out lonely and broken-hearted in 
the cold night to save the proprieties of New England 
Puritanism; but he is really a god going back to his 
heaven, proud, unspeakably contemptuous of the happiness 
he envied in the days of his blindness, clearly seeing that 
he has higher business on hand than Candida. She has 
a little quaint intuition of the completeness of his cure: 
she says : ' He has learnt to do without happiness.' " * 

Candida quickly divines that Marchbanks is " falling in love 
with her," and whilst fully conscious of her charms, she is equally 
conscious of the evil that may be wrought by unscrupulous use 
of them. She has too much respect for Marchbanks' passion 
to insult him with virtuous indignation. Her maternal insight 

* The Truth about Candida, by James Huneker, Metropolitan Magazine, 
August, 1904. 

351 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

enables her to sympathize with him in his aspirations and in his 
struggles. 

It is quite true that Candida's standards are instinctively 
natural, not conventionally ethical : " Put your trust in my love, 
James, not in my conscience," is her eminently sound point of 
view. It is her desire to save Eugene from future pain, to show 



Theatre Royal 

Bureaux 1 1/2 h. 




du 



Bideaa 2 b. 



MATINEES LITTBRAIBES 

Jeudi 14 Fevrier Dimanche 17 Fevrier Jeud) 21 FSvrler 
St'rie 8. Serie I). Sene C 

Conference sur le Theatre de Bernard Shaw, par MA. HA HON 

tteprescautioa 4s 

CANDIDA 

Piece en S «1Cles. de Bernard Shtfio, traduile par .4. ct H Hamon 



M> ALICE ARCHAINBAUD 

Candida 



fto-f f«nd J»mes *avor Morfll WW. MftPEVTIKK J Prre Burg«s MM. VERIEZ J Candida *•• Alke ARCKAMBAi;! 
BuRenc Murcbbafiks JOACHIM | Alexandre Kill tMlM I Proserpine Carmen «*ASS&V« 

Le bureau de location est on vert tous lea jours, da io a 7 honres de-rale vea. «» THcftutm "iYi ** , 
Affiles Tjie«tr»le». J. MORELS et ft. rue SNPierre " 

Playbill of Candida. 
Theatre Royal du Pare, Brussels. Preceded by a conference on TTte 
Theatre of Bernard Shaw, by M. A. Hamon. Four " Matinees Litt£raires," 
February 7th, 14th, 17th, 21st, 1907. First production of any of Shaw's 
plays in the French language. 

him quite gently the hopelessness of his passion, that leads 
her to " seduce " him into perfect self-expression, to make 
clear to him that he is a " foolish boy " and that her love 
is not the inevitable reward for the triumph of his logic. March- 

352 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

banks' magnificent bid of " his soul's need " does not win her, 
because she loves Morell. Taught by Candida to recognize the 
difference between poetic vision and prosaic actuality, March- 
banks realizes that his hour has struck: it is the end of his 
youth. He has made the inevitable Shavian discovery that 
service, not happiness, is the nobler aim in life ; and this episode 
in his soul's history, as Friedrich Dusel suggests, should be en- 
titled, " Wie aus emem Knaben ein Mann wtrd." He has learnt 
to do without happiness, not because he has been completely 
cured of love, but because he has learnt that his own love soars 
far above the unideal plane of Burgess — or is it bourgeois? — 
respectability. This, indeed, is the " secret in the poet's 
heart " ; otherwise the golden-winged god of dreams shrivels up 
into a pitiful shape of egoism. Candida is a miracle of candour 
and sympathy; she lacks the one essential — true comprehension 
of his love. Possessing some sort of spiritual affinity with the 
Virgin of the Assumption, she lacks the faintest sympathy or 
concern with the art of Titian ; feeling some sort of sympathy 
with Marchbanks and what is to her his comedy of calf-love, she 
lacks any true comprehension of the fineness and spirituality 
of his passion.* 

Whatever interpretation may be adopted, this drama of dis- 
illusion is a work of true genius. In a series of productions by 
the Independent Theatre in the English provinces in the spring 
of 1897, and again in 1898, Janet Achurch (Mrs. Charles Char- 
rington) " created " the role of Candida; the cast was notable, 

* Hermann Bahr has acutely observed: " In the Germanic world, the 
woman wields power over the man only so long as he feels her to be a 
higher being, almost a saint: so Candida is the transcendent, the immacu- 
late, the pure — the heaven, the stars, the eternal light. And this Candida? 
There is no doubt that she is an angel. The only question is in which 
heaven she dwells. There is a first heaven, and a second heaven, and so 
on up to the seventh heaven. In the seventh heaven, as you well know, 
Shaw, dwell only the poets; and of the seventh heaven must the woman 
be, before the worshipful Marchbanks will once kneel to her, if, indeed, 
it can be said that a poet ever kneels. But your beloved Candida is of a 
lower heaven — a lesser alp, a thousand metres below, in the region of the 
respectable bourgeoisie. There is she the saint the Germanic mannikin 
needs. There she shines — shines for the Morells, the good people who 
inculcate virtue and solve social questions every Sunday. And it is there 
that she belongs." 






GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

the parts of Morell and Marchbanks being taken by Mr. Charles 
Charrington and Mr. Courtenay Thorpe respectively. Doubt- 
less Janet Achurch's interpretation of Candida as the serene 
clairvoyante remains unequalled to-day, even by Agnes Sorma 
or Lili Petri. The play has been patronizingly spoken of as 
an amusing little comedy; Oliver Herford, the humorist, hailed 
it with great enthusiasm as a " problem-farce " ! But Candida 
has always appealed to me, as to Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, " not 
only as the noblest work of Mr. Shaw, but as one of the noblest, 
if not the noblest, of modern plays : a most square and manly 
piece of moral truth." 

The Devil's Disciple is the fourth and last play in the cate- 
gory of authentically dramatic pieces, ranking just below 
Candida in the subtlety of its character-delineation and the mag- 
netic force of its appeal. The play had its genesis in a con- 
versation between Shaw and that remarkable romantic actor, 
William Terriss. In Shaw's words: 

" One day Terriss sent for me, and informed me that 
since witnessing the production of Arms and the Man he 
regarded me as one of the ' greatest intellectual forces of 
the present day.' He proposed to combine my intellect with 
his knowledge of the stage in the construction of a play. 
Whereupon he gave me one of the most astounding scenarios 
I ever encountered. . . . When I endeavoured with all 
my reasoning powers to convince this terrible Terriss that 
such a scenario contained far too much action and far too 
little delineation of character, he declared firmly : 6 Mister 
Shaw, you have convinced me.' With these words, and 
without the slightest hesitation, he threw the whole scenario 
into the fire with the attitude and decision of a man who 
well knows that he has another draft lying in his desk. 
Nevertheless, the fact that he greeted me as a great intel- 
lectual force and yet had implied that I was incapable of 
writing a popular melodrama delighted me beyond words, 
and I resolved to get together all the trite episodes, all 
the stale situations, which had done such good service in 
the last ten years in trashy plays, and combine them in a 

354 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

new melodrama, which should have the appearance of 
a deeply thought-out, original modern play. The result of 
it all was The DeviVs Disciple" * 

The spontaneity and naturalness which characterize the dia- 
logue of Shaw's plays are the results, in part, of his habit of 
writing his plays on scraps of paper at odd times. And in the 
case of The Devil's Disciple, Shaw achieved the incomparable 
feat of writing a brilliant play and " looking pleasant " at one 
and the same time ! " A young lady I know," relates Shaw, 
" wanted to make a portrait of me, sitting on the corner of 
a table, which is a favourite attitude of mine. So I wrote the 
play in a notebook to fill up the time." 

In that mock-modest preface, On Didbolonian Ethics, Shaw 
has confessed his indebtedness to literary history and openly 
acknowledged his thefts from the past. But in one place he 
quietly asserts that he has put something original into this play. 
" The DeviVs Disciple has, in truth, a genuine novelty in it. 
Only, that novelty is not any invention of my own, but simply 
the novelty of the advanced thought of my own day." How 
can one express more succinctly the end and aim of the modern 
dramatist? Goethe once said that the great aim of the modern 
intelligence should be to gain control over every means afforded 
by the past, in order thereby to enable himself to exhibit those 
features in which the modern world feels itself new and different 
and unique. A remarkably subtle travesty upon melodrama, 
The DeviVs Disciple is a picture of life seen through the re- 
fractory temperament of a thoroughly modern intelligence. 

The veiled satire underlying The DeviVs Disciple is found in 
the fact that, whilst speciously purporting to be a melodrama, 
by individual and unique treatment the play gives the lie to the 
specific melodramatic formula. The comprehension of the dual 
role made this play as presented by Richard Mansfield peculiarly 
appreciated by American audiences; in England, the play was 
absurdly misunderstood, as related in one of Shaw's prefaces. 

* Vornehmlich iiber rnich selbst, in Program No. 88 of the Schiller Thea- 
ter, Berlin. This Plcmderei appeared originally in the Vienna Zeit in 
February, 1903, shortly before the production of Teufelskerl in Vienna. 

355 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

If we consider the crucial moments of the play, we observe the 
brilliant way in which Shaw has combined popular melodrama for 
the masses and Shavian satire upon melodrama for the discern- 
ing few. How the hardened old playgoer chuckles over his 
prevision of the situation that is to result after Dick is arrested 
and led off to prison ! Of course, the minister will come back, 
Judith will waver between love for her husband and desire to 
save the noble altruist, the secret will be torn from her at last, 
her husband will prepare to go and take Dick's place. She will 
adjure him to save himself, but he will remain firm as adamant. 
What a tumult of passions, what a moving farewell, every eye is 
moist — the genuine scene a faire! What a sense of exquisite 
relief when Shaw has the minister take the natural, the business- 
like, and not the melodramatic course ! Again, in the third act, 
when Judith, like a true Shakespearean heroine, disregards the 
convention of feminine fastidiousness in order to penetrate to 
the profoundest depths of Dick's heart, the melodramatic 
formula is clear: Dick will kneel at Judith's feet, pour out his 
burning love for her, the two will revel in the ecstasies of la 
grande passion. Reality is far subtler and more complex than 
melodrama — not a game of heroics, but a clash of natures, says 
Shaw. 

" You know you did it for his sake," charges Judith, " be- 
lieving he was a more worthy man than yourself." 

" Oho ! No," laughs Dick in reply ; " that's a very pretty 
reason, I must say; but I'm not so modest as that. No, it 
wasn't for his sake." 

Now she blushes, her heart beats painfully, and she asks 
softly : " Was it for my sake ? " " Perhaps a little for your 
sake," he indulgently admits ; but when, emboldened by his words, 
she romantically charges him to save himself, that he may go 
with her, even to the ends of the earth, he takes hold of her 
firmly by the wrists, gazes steadily into her eyes, and says : 

" If I said — to please you — that I did what I did ever so 
little for your sake, I lied as men always lie to women. You 
know how much I have lived with worthless men — aye, and 
worthless women too. Well, they could all rise to some sort 
of goodness and kindness when they were in love. That has 

S56 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

taught me to set very little store by the goodness that only 
comes out red-hot. What I did last night, I did in cold blood, 
caring not half so much for your husband or for you as I do 
for myself. I had no motive and no interest : all I can tell you 
is that when it came to the point whether I would take my neck 
out of the noose and put another man's into it, I could not do 
it. I don't know why not : I see myself as a fool for my pains ; 
but I could not, and I cannot. I have been brought up standing 
by the law of my own nature; and I may not go against it, 
gallows or no gallows. I should have done the same thing for 
any other man in the town, or any other man's wife. Do you 
understand that ? " 

" Yes," replies the stricken Judith ; " you mean that you do 
not love me." 

" Is that all it means to you ? " asks the revolted Richard, 
with fierce contempt. 

" What more — what worse — can it mean to me? " are Judith's 
final words. 

Last of all, Shaw indulges in his most hazardous stroke of 
satire in the scene of the military tribunal. Imagine the cloud 
of romantic gloom and melodramatic horror that the author of 
La Tosca would have cast over this valley of the shadow of 
death! Shaw ushers in an exquisite and urbane comedian to 
irradiate the gathering gloom with the sparks of his audacious 
speech and the scintillations of his heartless wit. Thus Shaw 
elevates the plane of the piece into a sublimated atmosphere of 
sheer satire. 

In The DeviVs Disciple, Shaw succeeds in humanizing the 
stock figures of melodrama, revealing in them a credible mixture 
of good and evil, of reality and romance. In life itself, Shaw 
finds no proof that a rake may not be generous, nor a black- 
guard tender to children, nor a minister virile and human. All 
mothers are not angels, all generals are not imposing dignitaries, 
all British soldiers are not Kitcheners in initiative or Gordons 
in heroism. That Dick scoffs at religion and breaks the social 
code does not prove that he is either naturally vicious or de- 
praved. In the stern asceticism of his nature, he is a more 
genuine Puritan than his self-righteous mother. Under every 

357 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

trial is he always valid to himself, obedient to the law of his 
own nature; he might have chosen for his device the words of 
Luther : " Ich hann nicht anders." The play was written for 
Richard Mansfield; and Mr. Shaw once told me that the part 
of Dudgeon was modelled upon Mansfield himself. On the 
stage, Dudgeon is usually represented either as the melodramatic 
type of hero, with white soft shirt and bared neck — e.g., Karl 
Wiene, in Vienna ; or as the gay debonair rake, counterpart of 
the best type of those fascinating blades of Sheridan and the 
other writers of earlier English comedy — e.g., Richard Mans- 
field, in America. As a matter of fact, Dick is neither a con- 
ventional stage hero nor a dashing rake. " Dick Dudgeon is a 
Puritan of the Puritans," says Shaw. " He is brought up in 
a household where the Puritan religion has died and become, in 
its corruption, an excuse for his mother's master-passion of 
hatred in all its phases of cruelty and envy. In such a home 
he finds himself starved of religion, which is the most clamorous 
need of his nature. With all his mother's indomitable selfishness, 
but with pity instead of hatred as his master-passion, he pities 
the devil, takes his side, and champions him, like a true Cove- 
nanter, against the world. He thus becomes, like all genuinely 
religious men, a reprobate and an outcast." Unfortified by the 
power of a great love, unconsoled by hope of future reward, 
Dick makes the truly heroic sacrifice with all the sublime spirit 
of a Carton or a Cyrano. Of such stuff are made not stage, 
but real heroes. " He is in one word," says Mr. J. T. Grein, 
" a man, spotted it is true, but a man, and, as such, perhaps 
the most human creature which native fancy has put on our 
modern stage." 

In The Devil's Disciple, as Hermann Bahr maintains, Shaw 
virtually asserts the modern dramatic principle that every situa- 
tion of adventitious character, every external adventure which 
meets the hero like a vagabond upon the highway, is un- 
dramatic; the sole aim of modern drama is representation of 
the inner life, and all things must be transposed into the key 
of spiritual significance.* This principle is exemplified in the 

* Rezensionen. Wiener Theater, 1901-1903, by Hermann Bahr; article 
Ein Teufelskerl, pp. 440-453. 

358 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— II 

three leading characters. Like Raina in Arms and the Man, 
Judith learns by bitter experience to distrust the iridescent 
mirage of romance. Sentimental, spoiled, romantic, this re- 
fined Lydia Languish does not know whether to hate, to admire, 
or to love the fascinating, devil-may-care rake. In the briefest 
space of time, her husband has become in her eyes a coward 
and a poltroon. Her heart is in a tumult of emotions: like a 
willow she sways between duty to her husband and love for 
the dashing Dudgeon. And when she puts all to the touch, 
she discovers that her romance is only a pretty figment of her 
fancy, powerless before the omnipotent passion of obligation 
to self. And when her husband appears in the nick of time, 
and proves to be a hero after all, her love floods back to him. 
Dick must promise that he will never tell! Surely the figure of 
the minister's young wife, says Heinrich Stumcke, is one of the 
most delicate creations of the English stage. " In the recital 
of Judith's relations with Dick," writes Dr. Brandes, " there 
is convincing irony, and rare insight into the idiosyncrasies and 
subtleties of the feminine heart." 

Among the minor excellences of the play, the figure of Bur- 
goyne stands out in striking relief. In Shaw's view, his Bur- 
goyne is not a conventional stage soldier, but " as faithful a 
portrait as it is in the nature of stage portraits to be " — what- 
ever that may mean ! In reality, Shaw's Burgoyne interests us, 
not at all as an historical personage, but as a distinct dramatic 
creation. " Gentleman Johnny," suave, sarcastic, urbane — the 
high comedian with all the exquisite grace of the eighteenth 
century — delights us by exchanging rare repartee with Dick 
over the banal topic of the latter's death. Burgoyne's speech 
of Voltairean timbre, quite in the key of De Quincey's Murder 
as a Fine Art — beginning with " Let me persuade you to be 
hanged " — is the finest ironical touch in English drama since 
Sheridan. " The historic figure of the English General Bur- 
goyne," says Dr. Brandes, " though he holds only a subordinate 
place in the play, stands forth with a fresh and sparkling 
vitality, such as only great poets can impart to their creations." 
Shaw once modestly averred that " the most effective situation 
on the modern stage occurs in my own play — The DeviVs Dis- 

359 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ciple." I have always had the feeling that the first act of this 
play, although actually delaying the beginning of the " love 
story " until the second act, is the most remarkable act Shaw 
has ever written — a genre picture eminently worthy of the hand 
of a Hogarth or a Dickens. And, to quote Dr. Brandes once 
more, " I consider The Devil's Disciple a masterpiece, whether 
viewed from the psychological or the dramatic standpoint. Well 
acted, it ought to create a furore." 



360 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 



" I find that the surest way to startle the world with daring innovations 
and originalities is to do exactly what playwrights have been doing for 
thousands of years; to revive the ancient attraction of long rhetorical 
speeches; to stick closely to the methods of Moliere; and to lift characters 
bodily out of the pages of Charles Dickens." — Prophets of the Nineteenth 
Century (Unpublished), by G. Bernard Shaw. 

" I have honour and humanity on my side, wit in my head, skill in my hand, 
and a higher life for my aim." — G. Bernard Shaw, in the New York Times, 
September 25th, 1905. 



CHAPTER XII 

71 /TAN AND SUPERMAN inaugurates another cycle of 
J.VJ- Shaw's theatre, and first presents Shaw to the world 
as a conscious philosopher. By reason of its bi-partite na- 
ture — it is sub-entitled A Comedy and a Philosophy — this play 
furnishes the natural link between Shaw the dramatist and Shaw 
the creator of a new form of stage entertainment. It is worth 
recalling that at the time this play appeared Shaw had not 
yet won the favour of the " great public " in England. He 
had, however, won the attention and the enthusiastic, yet tem- 
pered, praise of one of the ablest dramatic critics in England. 
Mr. William Archer pronounced Mrs. Warren's Profession a 
" masterpiece — yes, with all reservations, a masterpiece," and as 
each one of Shaw's plays appeared, he discussed it in the fullest 
and most impartial way, bespoke for it the attention of the 
British public, and roundly berated the managers of the large 
West End theatres for letting slip through their fingers the 
golden opportunities afforded by the brilliant works of the witty 
Irishman.* For that matter, Shaw was not wanting in appre- 
ciative students of his plays among the dramatic critics of the 
day; and even Mr. Max Beerbohm and Mr. A. B. Walkley, 
though temperamentally Shaw's opposites, took the liveliest in- 
terest in the Shavian drama. 

Indeed, it was Mr. Walkley who asked Shaw to write a Don 
Juan play; and the fulfilment of this request was Man and 
Superman. Ab initio, Shaw realized that there are no modern 
English plays in which the natural attraction of the sexes for 
one another is made the mainspring of the action. The popular 
contemporary playwrights, thinking to emulate Ibsen, had pro- 
duced plays cut according to a certain pattern, i.e., plays preoc- 
cupied with sex, yet really devoid of all sexual interest. In plays, 
of which The Second Mrs. Tanqueray is the type illustration, the 

* In a subsequent volume will be indicated in detail Mr. Archer's inti- 
mate relation to the growth of popular interest in Shaw's plays. 

363 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

woman through indiscretion is brought in conflict with the law 
which regulates the relation of the sexes, while the man by mar- 
riage is brought in conflict with the social convention that dis- 
countenances the woman. Such dramas, portraying merely the 
conflict of the individual with society, Shaw had railed at in the 
preface to his Three Plays for Puritans; such " senseless eva- 
sions " of the real sex problem serve in part to explain Shaw's 
partial lack of sympathy with Pinero during Shaw's Saturday 
Review period. Shaw was in no mind to treat his friend Walk- 
ley to a lurid play of identical import ; nor did the Don Juan of 
tradition, literature and opera, the libertine of a thousand bonnes 
fortunes, suit his wants any better. The prototypic Don Juan 
of sixteenth-century invention, Moliere's persistently impenitent 
type of impiety, and Mozart's ravishingly attractive enemy of 
God had all served their turn; whilst in Byron's Don Juan, 
Shaw saw only a vagabond libertine, a sailor with a wife in 
every port. Even that spiritual cousin of Don Juan, Goethe's 
Faust, although he had passed far beyond mere love-making to 
altruism and humanitarianism, was still almost a century out of 
date. 

This reductio ad absurdum process finally gave Shaw the 
clue to the mystery; the other types being perfected, and in a 
sense exhausted, a Don Juan in the philosophic sense alone 
remained. The modern type of Don Juan " no longer pretends 
to read Ovid, but does actually read Schopenhauer and Nietz- 
sche, studies Westermarck, and is concerned for the future of 
the race instead of for the freedom of his own instincts." Con- 
fronted with the stark problem of the duel of sex, Shaw solved 
it with the striking conclusion that Man is no longer, like 
Don Juan, the victor in that duel. Though sharing neither 
the prejudices of the homoist nor the enthusiasms of the fem- 
inist, Shaw found it easy to persuade himself that woman has 
become dangerous, aggressive, powerful. The roles established 
by romantic convention, and evidenced in the hackneyed phrase 
" Man is the hunter, woman the game," are now reversed : 
Woman takes the initiative in the selection of her mate. Thus 
is Don Juan reincarnated; once the headlong huntsman, he is 
now the helpless quarry. Man and Superman, in Shaw's own 

364 



HUDSON THEATRE 

HENRY 8. HARRIS Manage* 

ibe Attractions for this Theatre furnished by Charles Frohman. 

. * ■ • ■ 

WEEK BEGINNING MONDAY EVENING. MAY 21, 1906. 

ttv«nfikCB «« 8.20. Matinees Wednesday *a« 3«tarday at ill 



CHARLES DILLINGHAM Presenia 

Robert Loraine 

AJiD COMPANY 
IN BERNARD SHAW'8 COMEDY. 

MAN AND SUPERMAN 

Character*. 
, da order of their first. appee.aoce.) 

ROEBUCK RAMSDEN. . . „ . . .*• Mr, L0UT9 MASSE* 

PARLOR MAID «-.-•< ."..«. Mas PAULINE ANTHONY 

OCTAVIUS ROBINSON , . ; Mr. ALFRED HICKMAN 

JOHN TANNER .....Mr. ROBERT LORAINEJ 

MISS ANN WHITEFIELD. , Miss IDA CONQUEST 

MRS. WHITEFIELD....,.., ..MlsaLOIS FRANCES CLARK* 

MISS SUSAN RAMSDEN . . . . . Miss SALL1E WILLIAMS 

MISS VIOLET ROBINSON. Miss NELLIE THORNB 

HENRY STRAKER .,.*......« .^.Mr. EDWARD ABELE3 

HECTOR MALONE. Jr. . . Mr.. CHARLES OOTTHOLD 

ttfiCTOR MALONE, Sfwv. , . - , Mr. J. D. BEVERIDOE 



Synopsis of Scenery. 

,AC/t J.**~Roebuck Ramadan'* study la bis bouse. Portland Place. London-. 
W. A €pf lag morning. 

ACT II.— Carriage drive of Mrs. WbUefieldt country borne,. Richmond. 
Surrey. England* Next day 

AfT jd&w-Tbe garden of a yills to Graoada. t>DalB. Four days titer 1 

Time— Tbe present 

— — p— — ■— ■» ii ii ■ i ■ »■ »n 1 1 a ' ■ i i i i i i - i. 

The play staged under the direction of MR ROBERT LORAINE. 

* ■ -'■ i i — - r — i 

Manager tor- Mr. Dillingham. MR. FRED O. LATHAM. 



Program of Man and Superman. 
Hudson Theatre, N. Y. May 21st, 1906. Second Season. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

words, is " a stage projection of the tragi-comic love chase 
of the man by the woman." 

Shaw's solution of the problem was generally regarded as 
audaciously novel and original. And yet, as Shaw points out in 
the Dedicatory Epistle, and as I have indicated in a former 
chapter, the notion is very far from novel. Beaumont and 
Fletcher's The Wild Goose Chase furnishes the interesting anal- 
ogy of Mirabell, a travelled Italianate gentleman and cynical 
philanderer, pursued by Oriana, the " witty follower of the 
chase," who employs a number of more or less crude and coarse 
artifices to entrap him ; when the ingenuity of the dramatists 
is exhausted, Mirabell succumbs to Oriana's wiles.* And those 
who have a passion for attributing all Shaw's ideas to Nietzsche, 
might find some support in that passage in A Genealogy of 
Morals: " The philosopher abhors wedlock and all that would 
fain persuade to this state, as being an obstacle and fatality on 
his road to the optimum. Who among the great philosophers is 
known to have been married? Heraclitus, Plato, Descartes, 
Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer — they were not; nay, we cannot 
even so much as conceive them as married. A married philos- 
opher is a figure of comedy. ..." 

The attitude toward woman exhibited by Shaw in Man and 
Superman has won for him the appellation, " the most ungallant 
of dramatists." Mr. Huneker has ventured to assert that Shaw 
is " practically the first literary man who has achieved the feat 
of making his heroines genuinely disagreeable persons." Now 
to Wilde and to Strindberg, woman is an inferior being, the 
history of woman being the history of tyranny in its harshest 
form, i.e., the tyranny of the weak over the strong. Shaw is 
quite as far from misogyny on the one hand as from gynolatry 
on the other. From the beginning of his literary career, Shaw 

*This parallel was called to my attention by Professor William Lyon 
Phelps, of Yale University. Compare, for example, Tanner's long outburst 
against the chains of wedlock with MirabelPs, " I must not lose my liberty, 
dear lady, and like a wanton slave cry for more shackles," etc., etc. In 
reply to a question of mine in regard to indebtedness, Mr. Shaw replied: 
"Why, I never thought of such a thing! As a matter of fact, the old 
English comedies are so artificial and mechanical, that I always forget them 
before I have finished reading them." 

366 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

has been imbued with the conviction that, to use his own words, 
" women are human beings just like men, only worse brought 
up, and consequently worse behaved." In Shaw's plays it is a 
toss-up between the men and the women as to which are the 
worse behaved. The women in Shaw's plays seem always de- 
liberately to challenge the conventional ideal of the womanly 
Woman. As a dramatist, Shaw rebelled from the very first 
against the long-established custom of making all heroines per- 
fect, all heroes chivalrous and gallant, all villains irretrievably 
wicked. Stock characters, in Shaw's view, must be swept off 
from dramatic art along with romance, the womanly woman, the 
ideal heroine, and all the other useless lumber that so fatally 
cumbered the British stage. In Shaw's first play, he con- 
fessedly " jilted the ideal lady for a real one," and predicted that 
he would probably do it again and again, even at the risk of 
having the real ones mistaken for counter-ideals. Shaw has 
kept his promise, and has been jilting the ideal lady ever since. 
M. Filon finds Shaw's " galerie de femmes " nothing short of 
astonishing in the veracity and vitality of the likenesses. Ann 
Whitefield, whom Shaw once pronounced his " most gorgeous 
female," is really one of his least successful portraits. " As I 
sat watching Everyman at the Charterhouse," says Shaw, " I 
said to myself, i Why not Everywoman ? ' Ann was the result ; 
every woman is not Ann ; but Ann is Everywoman." Thus the 
play takes on the character of a " morality," and purports to 
adumbrate a deep, underlying truth of nature. Unfortunately, 
Shaw is not a flesh painter; Ann is not a successful portrait 
of a woman who is " an unscrupulous user of her personal fas- 
cination to make men give her what she wants." She is deficient 
in feminine subtlety — the obscurer instincts and emotions of 
sex. The strong, heedless, unquestioning voice of fruitful na 1 
ture voices its command, not through the passion of a " mother 
woman," but through the medium of the comic loquacity of a 
laughing philosopher ! * In the master works of that sovereign 

* Compare the novel, The Confounding of Camellia, by Anne Douglas 
Sedgwick, concretely imaging the thesis of Shaw's play. The pursuit of 
man is portrayed in its natural colours, the pursuer and temptress being 
a seductive siren who exploits all the intricate wiles and complex arts of 
personal fascination to ensnare her struggling prey. 

367 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

student of human nature, Thomas Hardy, the Life Force holds 
full sway; Wedekind's Erdgeist reveals the omnivorous, man- 
eating monster, devouring her human prey with all the ferocity 
1 of a she-lioness. Inability to portray sexual passion convinc- 
ingly is a limitation of Shaw's art. And yet in the present 
instance we must not forget that, as Mr. Archer reminds us, 
" no doubt the logic of allegory demanded that the case should 
be stated in its extremest form, and that the crudest femineity 
should, in the end, conquer the alertest and most open-eyed mas- 
culinity." While concerned with the problem of sex, Man and 
Superman remains a drama of ideas. And it is difficult to 
avoid the conclusion that, had the Life Force in Ann been su- 
preme, Maeterlinck would have been vindicated by her in his 
fine saying : " The first kiss of the betrothed is but the seal 
which thousands of hands, craving for birth, have impressed 
upon the lips of the mother they desire." 

Man and Superman is the most pervasively brilliant of all 
Shaw's comedies. And in spite of the fact that the idea-plot 
is intricate and requires to be disengaged from the action-plot 
the comedy, as I saw it produced in both New York and Lon- 
don, gave rise to an almost unbroken burst of merriment on the 
part of the audience. It is customary to identify Shaw with 
Tanner ; and in the first production of Man and Superman at 
the Court Theatre, Tanner (Mr. Granville Barker) was "made 
up " to represent Shaw. As a matter of fact, Mr. Shaw once 
told me that in Tanner, with all his headlong loquacity, is 
satirized Mr. H. M. Hyndman, the great Socialist orator. One 
other detail in the play is noteworthy — the extrinsically irrele- 
vant incident which leaves everyone at the end of the first act 
" cowering before the wedding-ring." It is an illustration of 
a curious device once or twice employed by Shaw — a sort of 
comic " sell " of the audience, appearing beside the mark be- 
cause its relation with the action is ideological, not dramatic. 
In general, the effect of Man and Superman is to make one 
wish that Shaw would write a comedy of matrimony furnishing 
the lamentable spectacle pictured by Nietzsche of the married 
philosopher. Mr. Robert Loraine has actually written a clever 
sketch upon this theme, entitled The Reformer's Revenge; or, 

368 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

the Revolutionist 9 s Reconcilation to Reality; * and Mr. William 
Archer publicly urged Shaw to complete his " Morality " and 
(following the precedent of Lord Dundreary Married and Set- 
tled) give us John Tanner Married and Done For. 

The play just discussed is the society comedy, as it appears 
in the printed book, with the omission of the Shavio-Socratic 
scene in hell, and one or two alterations and omissions in the 
printed play itself. The dream in hell — Act III. of the printed 
book — is the ultimate form of Shaw's drama of discussion, and 
has actually been successfully presented at the Court Theatre, 
London. When I saw it produced there, I was surprised to note 
the favour with which it was received, the brilliancy and wit 
of the dialogue compensating in great measure for the absence 
of all action and the exceptional length of the speeches. At Y. 
last Shaw's dream of long speeches, Shavian rhetoric, and a 
pit of philosophers was realized. Upon the average popular 
audience, the effect would doubtless have been devastating ; and 
even under the most favourable circumstances, the audience was 
partially seduced into appreciative interest by well-executed 
scenic effects, exquisite costumes specially designed by Charles 
Ricketts, and a long synopsis of Don Juan in Hell, especially 
prepared by the author. f 

* The Actor's Society Monthly Bulletin, Christmas, 1905. 

f " As this scene may prove puzzling at a first hearing," reads the leaflet, 
" to those who are not to some extent skilled in modern theology, the Man- 
agement have asked the Author to offer the Court audience the same 
assistance that concert-goers are accustomed to receive in the form of an 
analytical programme." Follows the synopsis: 

"The scene, an abysmal void, represents hell; and the persons of 
the drama speak of hell, heaven and earth, as if they were separate 
localities, like ' the heavens above, the earth beneath, and the waters 
under the earth.' It must be remembered that such localizations 
are purely figurative, like our fashion of calling a treble voice ' high ' 
and the bass voice ' low.' Modern theology conceives heaven and hell, 
not as places, but as states of the soul; and by the soul it means, not 
an organ like the liver, but the divine element common to all life, which 
causes us ' to do the will of God ' in addition to looking after our 
individual interests, and to honour one another solely for our divine 
activities and not at all for our selfish activities. 

"Hell is popularly conceived not only as a place, but as a place 
of cruelty and punishment, and heaven as a paradise of idle pleasure. 
These legends are discarded by the higher theology, which holds that 

369 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

The year 1904 marks a turning-point in the career of Bernard 
Shaw. The average age at which artists create their greatest 
work is forty-six to forty-seven, according to Jastrow's table; 
and so, practically speaking, John BulVs Other Island is chrono- 
logically announced as Shaw's magnum opus. In the technical, 
no less than in the popular sense, this path-breaking play 
registers the inauguration of a new epoch in Shaw's career. 
In this new phase we find him breaking squarely with tradition, 
and rinding artistic freedom in nonconformity. A true drama 
of national character, John BulVs Other Island portrays the 
conflict of racial types and exhibits its author as a descendant 
of Moliere, a master of comic irony, and at heart a poet. 

this world, or any other, may be made a hell by a society in a state of 
damnation: that is, a society so lacking in the higher orders of energy 
that it is given wholly to the pursuit of immediate individual pleasure, 
and cannot even conceive the passion of the divine will. Also that any 
world can be made a heaven by a society of persons in whom that pas- 
sion is the master passion — a ' communion of saints ' in fact. 

" In the scene represented to-day hell is this state of damnation. 
It is personified in the traditional manner by the devil, who differs from 
the modern plutocratic voluptuary only in being ' true to himself ' ; 
that is, he does not disguise his damnation either from himself or 
others, but boldly embraces it as the true law of life, and organizes his 
kingdom frankly on a basis of idle pleasure seeking, and worships love, 
beauty, sentiment, youth, romance, etc., etc. 

" Upon this conception of heaven and hell the author has fantastically 
grafted the seventeenth century legend of Don Juan Tenorio, Don 
Gonzalo, of Ulloa, Commandant of Calatrava, and the Commandant's 
daughter, Dona Ana, as told in the famous drama by Tirso de Molina 
and in Mozart's opera. Don Gonzalo, having, as he says, * always done 
what it was customary for a gentleman to do,' until he died defending 
his daughter's honour, went to heaven. Don Juan, having slain him, 
and become infamous by his failure to find any permanent satisfaction 
in his love affairs, was cast into hell by the ghost of Don Gonzalo, 
whose statue he had whimsically invited to supper. 

" The ancient melodrama becomes the philosophic comedy presented 
to-day, by postulating that Don Gonzalo was a simple-minded officer 
and gentleman who cared for nothing but fashionable amusement, 
whilst Don Juan was oonsumed with a passion for divine contemplation 
and creative activity, this being the secret of the failure of love to 
interest him permanently. Consequently we find Don Gonzalo, unable 
to share the divine ecstasy, bored to distraction in heaven; and Don 
Juan suffering amid the pleasures of hell an agony of tedium. 

" At last Don Gonzalo, after paying several reconnoitring visits 
to hell under colour of urging Don Juan to repent, determines to settle 
there permanently. At this moment his daughter, Ana, now full of 

370 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

Originally designed for production by Mr. W. B. Yeats under 
the auspices of the Irish Literary Theatre, this play was found 
unsuited both to the resources of the new Abbey Theatre and 
to the temper of the neo-Gaelic movement.* Temperamentally 
incapable of visionarily imagining Ireland as " a little old 
woman called Kathleen ni Hoolihan," Shaw drew a bold and 
uncompromising picture of the real Ireland of to-day ; and the 
sequel was the production of the play, not at the Abbey, but 
at the Royal Court Theatre, London. That interesting experi- 
ment in dramatic production inaugurated by Messrs. J. E. 
Vedrenne and H. Granville Barker at the Royal Court Theatre 
in 1904, furnishes material for the most interesting chapter in 
the history of the development of the contemporary English 

years, piety, and worldly honours, dies, and finds herself with Don 
Juan in hell, where she is presently the amazed witness of the arrival 
of her sainted father. The devil hastens to welcome both to his realm. 
As Ana is no theologian, and believes the popular legends as to heaven* 
and hell, all this bewilders her extremely. 

" The devil, eager as ever to reinforce his kingdom by adding souls 
to it, is delighted at the accession of Don Gonzalo, and desirous to 
retain Dona Ana. But he is equally ready to get rid of Don Juan, 
with whom he is on terms of forced civility, the antipathy between them 
being fundamental. A discussion arises between them as to the merits 
of the heavenly and hellish states, and the future of the world. The 
discussion lasts more than an hour, as the parties, with eternity before 
them, are in no hurry. Finally, Don Juan shakes the dust of hell from 
his feet, and goes to heaven. 

" Dona Ana, being a woman, is incapable both of the devil's utter 
damnation and of Don Juan's complete supersensuality. As the mother 
of many children, she has shared in the divine travail, and with 
care and labour and suffering renewed the harvest of eternal life; 
but the honour and divinity of her work have been jealously hidden 
from her by man, who, dreading her domination, has offered her for 
reward only the satisfaction of her senses and affections. She cannot, 
like the male devil, use love as mere sentiment and pleasure; nor can 
she, like the male saint, put love aside when it has once done its work 
as a developing and enlightening experience. Love is neither her 
pleasure nor her study: it is her business. So she, in the end, neither 
goes with Don Juan to heaven nor with the devil and her father to the 
palace of pleasure, but declares that her work is not yet finished. For 
though by her death she is done with the bearing of men to mortal 
fathers, she may yet, as Woman immortal, bear the Superman to the 
Eternal Father." 

*In W. B. Yeats's Collected Works, Vol. IV., p. 109 (London: Chap- 
man and Hall, 1908), appears a statement (dated 1903), with reference 

371 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

drama.* The companies trained by Mr. Barker, an able actor 
and already a promising dramatist, wrought something very 
like a revolution in the art of dramatic production in England. 
The unity of tone, the subordination of the individual, the 
general striving for totality of effect, the constant changes of 
bill, the abolition of the " star " system — all were noteworthy 
features of these productions. There were given nine hundred 
and eighty-eight performances of thirty-two plays by seventeen 
authors; seven hundred and one of these performances were of 
eleven plays by one author — Bernard Shaw. Plays of other 
authors — notably of Mr. Barker himself — were produced, and 
often with noticeable success. But in the main the whole under- 
taking may be regarded as a monster Shaw Festspiel, prolonged 
over three years. Mr. Barker, Mr. Galsworthy, the late Mr. 
/Hankin, Miss Elizabeth Robins and Mr. Masefield, all came 
prominently into public notice as dramatists of the " new " 
school. The Court was not, in the strict sense, a repertory 
theatre; rather it furnished a tentative compromise between 
the theatre a cote and the actor-managed theatre backed by a 
syndicate of capitalists. The Vedrenne-Barker enterprise did 
the imperatively needed pioneer work of breaking ground for 
the repertory theatre idea ; created a public of intelligent play- 
goers with literary tastes, who had long since lost interest in the 
theatre of commerce ; developed a whole " school " of play- 
wrights, with Mr. Barker at their head; and brought to the 
English public at large a belated consciousness of the greatness 
of Bernard Shaw. 

Coming at a political Sturm und Drang period, John ButVs 
Other Island achieved an immediate and immense success. 
Leading figures in public life, including Mr. Arthur Balfour and 
the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, again and again heard 
the play with unmitigated delight ; and, finally, King Edward 

to "the play which Mr. Bernard Shaw has promised us." The appended 
footnote reads: "This play was John Bull's Other Island. "When it came 
out in the spring of 190'5, we felt ourselves unable to cast it without wrong- 
ing Mr. Shaw. We had no Broadbent, or money to get one." 

* In a subsequent volume, dealing with the dramatic movement inaugu- 
rated by Mr. Shaw, the production of his plays at the Court Theatre will 
be fully discussed. 

372 




From the original monochrome, made in 1 908. 



[Facing p. 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

" commanded " a special performance. The gods of English 
society, upon whose knees ever rests the ultimate fate of the 
British artist, suddenly awoke at last to the realization of the 
fact that a genius was living in their midst. John BulVs Other 
Island marked a new stage in Shaw's career ; for whilst the play 
itself is the fine fleur of Shavian dramaturgy, the characters 
are set firmly upon solid ground. In Shaw's former plays, as 
a rule, the locality was not strikingly material, the characters 
often supra-natural, and the ideas deftly bandied about at 
times, much as a juggler manipulates glass balls. This new 
play exhibited nothing short of a new type of drama. Emotion 
is subsidiary to idea, action is less important than character, 
and conflict of ideas replaces the conflict of wills of the dramatic 
formula. 

In the Shavian Anschauung, the action and reaction of na- 
tional types inevitably takes precedence over the purely human 
problem of the love story. The study in emotional psychology 
is the incidental underplot to the larger study of England versus 
Ireland; here we see the line of cleavage between Shaw and the 
conventional dramatist. Shaw's hand, so deft in the handling/ 
of national types, the portrayal of racial traits, failed him in 
the delicate task of the exhibition of vital emotion. " I do 
not accuse Mr. Shaw of dealing in symbols," says Mr. John 
Corbin, " but I shall not, I am sure, misinterpret him radically 
in saying that Nora is Kathleen ni Hoolihan — the embodiment 
of his idea of Ireland. The real drama of the piece centres 
in the story of how the Irishman loses Nora and the Briton 
wins her. ... In his heart Larry loves his countrywoman, 
as she has always loved him, and she has no real affection for 
the Briton. Here lies the comic irony of the denouement, the 
very essence of Shaw's comment on his problem." * The " real 
drama," one rather feels, is the death struggle of nations. Ire- 
land and England are the antagonist and protagonist, respect- 
ively, of the drama; and the dramatic characters, in a broad 
sense, are both individualized human beings and concrete imper- 
sonations of racial traits. It seems to me quite improbable that 

* Bernard Shaw and His Mannikins, in the New York Sun, October 15th, 
1905. 

373 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

John BulVs Other Island will " cross frontiers " as readily as 
many of Shaw's other plays. For, despite the signal merits of 
the character-drawing, the problem is essentially unique, and, 
as the title implies, peculiar to the British Isles. 

Roscullen, the scene of the play, is a segment of the living 
Ireland, and here are encountered all those conflicting elements 
which have made a hopeless enigma of the Irish question for so 
many generations. In this miniature Ireland we find jostling 
each other the dreamer and the bigot, the superstitious and the 
unilluded. Instead of the great landowner, there is a group of 
small proprietors, who treat their employees and tenants with 
a harshness and industrial cruelty that can only result in the 
latter's ruin. Religion continues to be the dominant force in 
the community; and the clergy exhibit that profound political 
sagacity and that unscrupulousness in playing upon the super- 
stition of the credulous peasants which are such defining marks 
of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Ireland's sense of her op- 
pression and bitter wrongs has not succeeded in destroying her 
sense of humour, her passion for mysticism, and her native 
charm. These qualities we observe in the ineffable merriment 
of the peasants over the comic spectacle of Broadbent as an 
unconscious humorist ; in the fascinating figure of the Irish St. 
Francis, chatting amicably with the grasshopper and breaking 
his heart over Ireland; and in Nora Reilly, quintessence of 
graceful coquetry, larmoyant piquancy and Celtic charm. 

Thomas Broadbent, Shaw's conception of the typical Eng- 
lishman, approximates quite closely to Napoleon's description 
of the Englishman in The Man of Destiny. To Mr. A. B. 
Walkley's characterization of John BulVs Other Island as a 
" Shavian farrago," Shaw replied, " Walkley is too thorough 
an Englishman to be dramatically conscious of what an Eng- 
lishman is, and too clever and individual a man to identify him- 
self with a typical averaged English figure. I delight in Walk- 
ley: he has the courage of his esprit; and it gives me a sense of 
power to be able to play with him as I have done in a few 
Broadbent strokes which are taken straight from him." * And 

* George Bernard Shaw: A Conversation, in The Tatter, November 16th, 
1904. 

374 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

in a letter to Mr. James Huneker, of date January 4th, 1904, 
Shaw says, " I tell you, you don't appreciate the vitality of the 
English. . . . Cromwell said that no man goes farther than ** 
the man who doesn't know where he is going." In that you 
have the whole secret of the " typical averaged English figure." 
Endowed with the stolid density and exaggerated self-confidence 
of the average Englishman, Broadbent resolves to study the 
apparently insoluble Irish question " on the ground " ; but his 
incurable ignorance of Ireland's plight stands revealed in his 
declared faith that the panacea for all of Ireland's ills is to 
be found in the " great principles of the great Liberal party." 
Ireland irresistibly appeals to his sentimentalities through its 
traditional charms — the Celtic melancholy, the Irish voice, the 
rich blarney, the poetic brogue. " Of the evils you describe," 
he says to Keegan, " some are absolutely necessary for the 
preservation of society and others are encouraged only when 
the Tories are in office." . . . " I see no evils in the world — 
except, of course, natural evils — that cannot be remedied by 
freedom, self-government, and English institutions. I think so, 
not because I am an Englishman, but as a matter of common 
sense." With blundering shrewdness, Broadbent announces 
himself as a candidate for the parliamentary seat, on the 
ground that he is a Home Ruler, a Nationalist, and Ireland's 
truest friend and supporter. " Reform," he announces, " means 
maintaining these reforms which have already been conferred 
on humanity by the Liberal party, and trusting for future de- 
velopments to the free activity of a free people on the basis 
of these reforms." In Shaw's description, he (Broadbent) is 
" a robust, full-blooded, energetic man in the prime of life, 
sometimes eager and credulous, sometimes shrewd and roguish, 
sometimes portentously solemn, sometimes jolly and impetuous, 
always buoyant and irresistible, mostly likable, and enormously 
absurd in his most earnest moments." 

Broadbent is a great comic figure, destined to take high rank 
in the portrait-gallery of English letters. His foil, the Irish- 
man, Larry Doyle, without being less interesting, is less 
convincingly portrayed. Doyle is cursed with the habitual 
self-questioning and disillusionment of the self-expatriated 

375 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Irishman. Realizing the charm of Ireland's dreams and the 
brutality of English facts, Doyle longs discontentedly for " a 
country to live in where the facts are not brutal and the dreams 
not unreal." His hope for a Greater Ireland is based on his 
own dream of Irish intellectual lucidity mated with English 
push, the Irishman's cleverness and power of facing facts 
grafted on the Englishman's indomitable perseverance and high 
efficiency. And yet, he has absorbed the English view of his 
own race ; this " clear-headed, sane Irishman," so " hardily cal- 
lous to the sentimentalities and susceptibilities and credulities," 
if we accept Shaw's estimate of the typical Irishman, thus de- 
scribes his own countrymen: 

" Oh, the dreaming ! the dreaming ! the torturing, heart- 
scalding, never-satisfying dreaming, dreaming, dreaming, 
dreaming ! No debauchery that ever coarsened and bru- 
talized an Englishman can take the worth and usefulness 
out of him like that dreaming. An Irishman's imagination 
never lets him alone, never convinces him, never satisfies 
him; but it makes him that he can't face reality, nor deal 
with it, nor handle it, nor conquer it : he can only sneer at 
them that do, and be ' agreeable to strangers,' like a good- 
for-nothing woman on the streets. It's all dreaming, all 
imagination. He can't be religious. The inspired church- 
man that teaches him the sanctity of life and the impor- 
tance of conduct is sent away empty, while the poor village 
priest that gives him a miracle or a sentimental story of 
a saint has cathedrals built for him out of the pennies of 
the poor. He can't be intelligently political : he dreams of 
what the Shan Van Vocht said in '98. If you want to inter- 
est him in Ireland you've got to call the unfortunate island 
Kathleen ni Hoolihan and pretend she's a little old woman. 
It saves thinking. It saves working. It saves everything 
except imagination, imagination, imagination; and imag- 
ination's such a torture that you can't bear it without 
whiskey." 

^ A noticeable feature of the play's construction is its slow 
beginning; the first act might more properly be called a pro- 

376 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

logue. The remainder of the play, although it has little or no 
story worth recounting, is constructed with unusual care; the 
interest inheres chiefly in the dialogue and the traits of the 
principal characters. When Shaw was charged with throwing 
all attempt at construction overboard, he vehemently replied : > 

" I never achieved such a feat of construction in my life. 
Just consider my subject — the destiny of nations I Con- 
sider my characters — personages who stalk on the stage 
impersonating millions of real, living, suffering men and 
women. Good heavens ! I have had to get all England and 
Ireland into three hours and a quarter. I have shown the 
Englishman to the Irishman and the Irishman to the Eng- 
lishman, the Protestant to the Catholic and the Catholic 
to the Protestant. I have taken that panacea for all the 
misery and unrest of Ireland — your Land Purchase Bill — 
as to the perfect blessedness of which all your political 
parties and newspapers were for once unanimous; and I 
have shown at one stroke its idiocy, its shallowness, its 
cowardice, its utter and foredoomed futility. I have shown 
the Irish saint shuddering at the humour of the Irish 
blackguard — only to find, I regret to say, that the average 
critic thought the blackguard very funny and the saint 
very unpractical. I have shown that very interesting psy- 
chological event, the wooing of an unsophisticated Irish- 
woman by an Englishman, and made comedy of it without 
one lapse from its pure science. I have even demonstrated 
the Trinity to a generation which saw nothing in it but 
an arithmetical absurdity. I have done all this and a dozen 
other things so humanely and amusingly that an utterly 
exhausted audience, like the wedding guest in the grip of 
the Ancient Mariner, has waited for the last word before 
reeling out of the theatre as we used to reel out of the 
Wagner Theatre at Bayreuth after Die Gotterdammerung. 
And this they tell me is not a play. This, if you please, 
is not constructed." * 

* George Bernard Shaw: A Conversation, in The Toiler, November 16th, 
1904. 

377 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Not the least noticeable feature of the play is the omission of 
the character which, in former plays, appeared as Shaw in 
disguise. The characters are sharply individualized, each is a 
personality as well as a type. Moreover, Shaw has seized the 
situation with the hand of a master ; we discern an Irish Moliere 
revelling in the comic irony of character-reactions, and observ- 
ing the rigid impartiality of the true dramatist. This very 
fairness allows Shaw a free play of intellect that partisanship 
would have stifled; every situation is transfused with the 
Shavian ironic consciousness. I once asked Mr. William Archer / 
which play he regarded as Shaw's magnum opus. " I suppose 
Man and Superman is Shaw's most popular play," said Mr. 
Archer, " but I have always regarded it, somehow, as beneath 
— unworthy of — Shaw. I should be inclined to rate John BulVs 
Other Island as Shaw's greatest dramatic work." I remember 
remarking to Mr. Shaw one day that John BulVs Other Island 
revealed greater solidity of workmanship and greater self- 
restraint than any of his former plays. " Yes, that is quite 
true," replied Mr. Shaw ; " my last plays, beginning with John 
Butt, are set more firmly upon the earth. They have ceased 
to be fantastic, and tend to grow more solid and more human." 
The cleverest and truest remark about John Bull was made by 
W. B. Yeats : " John BulVs Other Island is the first play of 
Bernard Shaw's that has a genuine geography." 

While no character in the play can be called essentially 
Shavian, it is noteworthy that Keegan, the unfrocked parish 
priest, is the " ideal spectator " ; in his mouth Shaw places his 
own poignant criticisms penetrating to the heart of the situa- 
tion. At last the mystic in Shaw's temperament utters his noble 
message. And the true poet, vaguely shadowed forth in that 
essentially romantic figure Marchbanks, speaks from the heart 
of Bernard Shaw in the accents of Keegan, the mystic: 

" In my dreams heaven is a country where the State is 
the Church and the Church the people : three in one and 
one in three. It is a commonwealth in which work is play 
and play is life: three in one and one in three. It is a 
temple in which the priest is the worshipper and the wor- 

378 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

shipper the worshipped: three in one and one in three. It 
is a godhead in which all life is human and all humanity 
divine: three in one and one in three. It is, in short, the 
dream of a madman." 

In Major Barbara, Shaw's next play, we discover a reversion 
to the earlier economic tone of Mrs. Warren's Profession com- 
bined with a more specific elaboration of the " Shavian 
dramaturgy." This " Discussion in three acts " has aroused so 
much discussion as to its meaning and purpose that the story of 
its genesis may throw some light upon its obscurities. Mr. 
Shaw once related to me the circumstances under which the 
germ ideas of the play first took form in his mind. It seems 
that, while spending some time at his county place, Ayot St. 
Lawrence, in Hertfordshire, he formed an acquaintance with 
a young man who was a near neighbour, Mr. Charles McEvoy, 
the author of a play entitled David Ballard, produced under 
the auspices of the London Stage Society. At the close of the 
War between the States in America, Mr. McEvoy's father, who 
had fought on the side of the Confederacy, and was a most 
gentle and humane man, established a factory for the manu- 
facture of torpedoes and various high-power explosives. The 
idea of this grey-haired gentleman, of peculiarly gentle nature 
and benignant appearance, manufacturing the most deadly in- 
struments for the destruction of his fellow-creatures appealed to 
Shaw as the quintessence of ironic contrast. Here, of course, 
we have the germ idea of Andrew Undershaft. The contrast 
of the mild-mannered professor of Greek with the militant 
armourer occurred to Shaw as the result of his acquaintance 
with a well-known scholar, Professor Gilbert Murray, admira- 
bly kodaked by Shaw in the stage description : " Cusins is a 
spectacled student, slight, thin-haired and sweet voiced. . . . 
His sense of humour is intellectual and subtle, and is compli- 
cated by an appalling temper. The lifelong struggle of a 
benevolent temperament and a high conscience against impulses 
of inhuman ridicule and fierce impatience has set up a chronic 
strain which has visibly wrecked his constitution. He is a most 
implacable, determined, tenacious, intolerant person, who, by 

380 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

mere force of character, presents himself as — and actually is 
— considerate, gentle, explanatory, even mild and apologetic, 
capable possibly of murder, but not of cruelty or coarseness." 

In 1902, when Mrs. Warren's Profession was produced in 
London, Shaw said in the Author's Apology affixed to the 
Stage Society edition of that play, " So well have the rescuers 
(of fallen and social outcasts) learnt that Mrs. Warren's de- 
fence of herself and indictment of society is the thing that most 
needs saying, that those who know me personally reproach 
me, not for writing this play, but for wasting my energies 
on ' pleasant plays ' for the amusement of frivolous people, 
when I can build up such excellent stage sermons on their own 
work." Major Barbara marks a return to Shaw's earlier pre- 
occupation with economic themes and is a profound study of 
some of the greatest social and economic evils of the contem- 
porary capitalistic regime. In conversation, Mr. Shaw gave me 
^the reasons which led him to write this play. 

" For a long time," he said, " I had had the idea of the 
religious play in mind ; and I always saw it as a conflict between 
the economic and religious views of life. 

" You see, long ago, I wrote a novel called Cashel Byron's 
Profession, in which I showed the strange anomaly of a pro- 
fession which has the poetry and romance of fighting about it 
reduced to a perfectly and wholly commercial basis. Here we 
see the pressure of economics upon the profession of prize- 
fighting. 

" After a while, I wrote a play which I called Mrs. Warren's 
Profession. I showed that women were driven to prostitution, / 
not at all as the result of excessive female concupiscence , but * 
because the economic conditions of modern capitalistic society 
forced them into a life from which, in another state of society, 
they would have shrunk with horror, i Here we see the pressure 
of economics upon the profession of prostitution. *" 

, " Finally, there came Major Barbara. Perhaps a more suit- 
able title for this play, save for the fact of repetition, would 
have been Andrew Under shaft's Profession. Here we see the 
pressure of economics upon the profession of dealing in death 
and destruction to one's fellow-creatures. I have shown the 

381 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

conflict between the naturally religious soul, Barbara, and Un- 
dershaft, with his gospel of money, of force, of power and his 
doctrine not only that money controls morality, but that it is 
a crime not to have money. The tragedy results from the 
collision of Undershaft's philosophy with Barbara's." 

Major Barbara is Shaw's presentment, as Socialist, of the 
problem of social determinism. Undershaft began as an East 
Ender, moralizing and starving, until he swore that he would 
be a full-fed free man at all costs. " I said, ' Thou shalt starve 
ere I starve ' ; and with that word I became free and great." 
As in the case of Mrs. Warren, " Undershaft is simply a man 
who, having grasped the fact that poverty is a crime, knows 
that when society offered him the alternative of poverty or a 
lucrative trade in death and destruction, it offered him not 
a choice between opulent villainy and humble virtue, but be-./ 
tween energetic enterprise and cowardly infamy." The doctrine 
of the direct functionality of money and morality is no new 
doctrine. vColonel Sellers maintained that every man has his v 
price. Becky Sharp averred that any woman can be virtuous 
v on five thousand pounds a year. The penniless De Rastignac 
on the heights of Montmartre, shaking his fist at the city that 
never sleeps, bitterly exclaimed : " Money is morality." Shaw 
has declared again and again in the public prints and on the'' 
platform, that money controls morality, that money is the most 
important thing in the world, and that all sound and successful 
personal and social morality should have this fact for its basis. 
So Undershaft, asked if he calls poverty a crime, replies : 

" The worst of crimes. All the other crimes are virtue 
beside it: all the other dishonours are chivalry itself by 
comparison. Poverty blights whole cities : spreads horrible 
pestilences ; strikes dead the very souls of all who come 
within sight, sound or smell of it. What you call crime is 
nothing : a murder here and a theft there, a blow now and 
a curse then: what do they matter? they are only the 
accidents and illnesses of life: there are not fifty genuine 
professional criminals in London. But there are millions 
of poor people, abject people, dirty people, ill-fed, ill- 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

clothed people. They poison us morally and physically: 
they kill the happiness of society; they force us to do 
away with our own liberties and to organize unnatural 
cruelties for fear they should rise against us and drag us 
down into their abyss. Only fools fear crime: we all fear 
poverty. Pah! you talk of your half -saved ruffian in 
West Ham; you accuse me of dragging his soul back to 
perdition. Well, bring him to me here; and I will drag 
his soul back again to salvation for you. Not by words 
and dreams; but by thirty-eight shillings a week, a sound 
house in a handsome street, and a permanent job. In 
three weeks he will have a fancy waistcoat ; in three months 
a tall hat and a chapel sitting ; before the end of the year 
he will shake hands with a duchess at a Primrose League 
meeting, and join the Conservative party. ... It is 
cheap work converting starving men with a Bible in one 
hand and a slice of bread-and-butter in the other. I will 
undertake to convert West Ham to Mahommedanism on 
the same terms. ... I had rather be a thief than a 
pauper. I had rather be a murderer than a slave. I don't 
want to be either; but if you force the alternative on me, 
then, by Heaven! I'll choose the braver and more moral 
one. I hate poverty and slavery worse than any other 
crime whatsoever. And let me tell you this. Poverty and 
slavery have stood up for centuries to your sermons and 
leading articles: they will not stand up to my machine 
guns. Don't preach at them: don't reason with them. 
Kill them." 

Now it is patent on reflection that poverty per se is not a 
crime, but frequently an incentive to crime; poverty is an evil^ 
that must be remedied by social reforms.* The casuistry of 
Undershaft's arguments lies in the assumption that good ends*-^ 

* Several years ago, in a public address, Mr. Andrew Carnegie made the 
remarkable statement: "You hear a good deal these days about poverty. 
People wish it abolished. The saddest day civilization will ever see will 
be that in which poverty does not prevail. Fortunately we are assured 
that the poor are always to be with us. It is upon the evil of poverty that 
virtue springs"! 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

justify the worst of crimes; but the very strongest case can 
be made out against this materialist Socialism, inasmuch as it 
leaves out of consideration all sense of individual integrity and 
personal honour. The implication of Major Barbara is that the 
summum bonum vitce is not virtue, or honour, or goodness, or 
personal worth, but material well-being, if not worldly pros- 
perity. Undershaft expresses the doctrine of those industrial 
captains of the predatory rich class whom Mr. Roosevelt has 
entitled " malefactors of great wealth." Mr. John D. Rocke- \/ 
feller is publicly quoted as preaching to his Sunday School 
class that it is every man's religious duty to make as much 
money as he possibly can — adding the sardonic parenthesis, 
" honestly, of course." Undershaft, whose motto is " Un- 
ashamed," finds the parenthesis superfluous — his expressed doc- 
trine is to acquire money at all hazards — rede si possit, si non, 
qaocumque modo rem. He would displace the Christian doc- 
trine of submission with the Shavian doctrine of self-assertion. 
If the present practice of the Christian religion is found inade- 
quate to modern social conditions, Undershaft asserts, why, 
scrap the Christian morality, and try another — the Undershaft 
morality, say, faute de rrdeuoc. But with that comic irony which 
never deserts Shaw even in treating the characters most akin 
to himself in temperament, he betrays the discrepancy in Un- 
dershaf t's position : the lack of connection between his " tall 
talk " and his perfectly legitimate actions. There is no evi- 
dence that Undershaft employed dishonest means in the ac- 
quisition of his wealth, or committed any violence in the fur- 
therance of his commercial ambition. Lady Britomart acutely 
pricks the bubble in the assertion that she could not get along 
with Undershaft because he gave the most immoral reasons for 
the most moral conduct! 

Shaw suffered the customary fate of the dramatist in having 
Undershaft's Nietzschean doctrine of the " will to power " laid 
at his own door. It is an historic fact that Shaw once dis- 
suaded a mob from going on another window-smashing excursion 
in the West End, by convincing them of its futility: and yet J 
in the preface to Major Barbara he says, " The problem being 
to make heroes out of cowards, we paper apostles and artist 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

magicians have succeeded only in giving cowards all the sensa- 
tions of heroes whilst they tolerate every domination, accept 
every plunder, and submit to every oppression." As a Fabian, 
Shaw^is ajstrict advocate of procedure by constitutional means ; 
he constitutionally agitated for Old Age Pensions, threatening 
the Liberal Party all the while with speedy dissolution if this 
measure were not carried into effect. It is quite evident that in 
Major Barbara, Shaw is endeavouring to awake public thought 
and arouse public sentiment in England upon the momentous 
problems of poverty and the unemployed. To rich and poor 
alike, he quite consistently and impartially preaches Socialism, 
finding this to be most effectively accomplished by putting in 
the mouths of his dramatic characters extremes of opinion ex- 
pressed in the extremest ways. Shaw advises the malefactor of 
great wealth, after acquiring a swollen fortune, to turn So- 
cialist and, emulating the examples of Carnegie and Rhodes in 
educational and other fields, to employ his wealth in improving 
the conditions of life for the working classes.* To the poor, 
Shaw points out the inadequacy of the " paper apostles and 
artist magicians," and the imperative necessity of militant op- 
position to oppression, revolt against subjection and poverty. 
In speaking of Undershaft's " hideous gospel," Sir Oliver 
Lodge pertinently says, " Perhaps, after all, it is only the 
wealthy cannon-maker's gospel that is' being preached to us; 
why should we take it as the gospel of Shaw himself? Shaw 
must have a better gospel than that in the future, and some 
day he will tell it us, but not yet. As yet, perhaps, it has not \J 
dawned clearly on him. ... In nearly all Bernard Shaw's 
writings . . . the background of strenuous labour, of poverty 
and overwork, which constitutes the foundation of modern so- 
ciety, is kept present to the consciousness all the time, is borne 
in upon the mind even of the most thoughtless : it is not possible 
to overlook it, and that is why his writings are so instructive 
and so welcome." t 

*In the Fabian tract, Socialism for Millionaires, Shaw preaches much 
the same gospel to the millionaire. This paper was first published in the 
Contemporary Review, February, 1896. 

f Major Barbara,' G. B. S., and Robert Blatchford, by Sir Oliver Lodge; 
in the Clarion (London), December 29th, 1905. 

385 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

From the dramatic standpoint, Major Barbara is the most 
remarkable demonstration yet given by Shaw of the vitality of 
a type of entertainment in complete contradistinction to the 
classical model. Shaw has created a form of stage representa- 
tion, not differing externally from the conventional form of 
drama, in which material action attains its irreducible minimum, 
and the conflict takes place absolutely within the minds and 
souls of the characters. Major Barbara consists in a succession 
of logical demonstrations, flowing from conflicting reactions set 
up in the souls of the leading characters by the simplest actions, 
externally trivial but subjectively of vital significance. In this 
play Shaw fully justifies his cardinal tenet of dramatic criticism 
that illumination of life is the prime function of the dramatist, 
and that the life of drama is not merely the passion of sexual 
excitement, but the social, religious and humanitarian passions. 
The drama of the future will concern itself with the passion of 
humanity for all great ends. J 

Major Barbara is epoch-making in virtue of its theme: the 
evolutional struggle of the religious consciousness in a single 
personality. The stage upon which the drama is enacted is the 
soul of the Salvation Army devotee. " Since I saw the Passion 
Play at Oberammergau," said Mr. W. T. Stead in writing of 
Major Barbara, " I have not seen any play which represented 
so vividly the pathos of Gethsemane, the tragedy of Calvary." * 
I do not see how anyone can read this story of a souPs tragedy, 
or see the play upon the stage, without a quickening of the 
nobler emotions, and a realization that Bernard Shaw is a man 
of profound feeling and of sentiment, in the best sense. The 
second act is the acme of great art, alike in the validity of its 
emotive power and the marvellous portraiture of true practical 
Christianity in the character of Major Barbara. The sanity 
and sweetness of her noble nature, the positive divination of her 
religious sense which inspires her to sink self and go straight 
to the heart of the religious problem, are revelations in the 
art of character-portrayal. Her loss of faith appears insuf- 
ficiently motived in the play; her conversion in the last act is 

* Impressions of the Theatre. — XIV. Mr. Bernard Shaw's 'Major Bar- 
bara/ in the Review of Reviews (London), January 27th, 1906. 

386 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

even less convincing. Undershaft's intellectuality dominates 
Barbara's emotionality; slight reflection might well have con- 
vinced her that the Salvation Army accepted Undershaft's and 
Bodger's " tainted money " without explicit or tacit obligation 
of any sort whatsoever.* But perhaps she saw — as Shaw in- 
tends us to see — that the Salvation Army is foredoomed to 
failure so long as its chief means of support is derived from 
the very class against which it animadverts. If the Salvation 
Army goes so far as actually to threaten the incomes of the 
predatory rich, it will at once discover that its means of support 
derived from that quarter, will be forthcoming no longer. 

Not without its significance is the fact that, in Major Bar- 
bara, leading dramatic critics found fantastic and absurd what 
leading publicists found momentous and profound. To Mr. 
Walkley, Major Barbara was a " farrago," to Mr. Archer, a 
play in which there are " no human beings." On the other 
hand, Sir Oliver Lodge and Mr. W. T. Stead were immensely 
impressed with this play as a vital study of contemporary re- 
ligious and social manifestations. These contrasted views tend 
to emphasize the facts that the plot of Major Barbara is quite 
obviously fantastic, and Undershaft a mystic whose ideas are 
dangerously unpractical. And yet the separate characters in 
the play, with the exception of Undershaft — and even in his 
case, we should remember that no character is impossible in a 
world which holds a Bernard Shaw — are all perfectly natural 
and perfectly comprehensible. Shaw's practically unlimited ac- 
quaintance with all ranks of society enables him to exhibit 
characters so diametrically diverse as Bill Walker and Major 
Barbara, Lady Britomart and Mrs. Baines, Undershaft and 

* Commissioner Nicol, of the Salvation Army, has pointed out that a 
"real" Barbara, before sending in her resignation, would have consulted 
General Booth as to the Army's policy in the matter of accepting " tainted 
money." He relates (the Star, November 29th, 1905), that General Booth 
accepted one hundred pounds from the Marquess of Queensberry for his 
"Darkest England" project. A Christian friend was astonished that he 
took the "dirty money." Said the General: "We'll wash it clean in the 
tears of the widow and orphan, and consecrate it on the altar of humanity 
for Humanity's good." It is quite clear that Shaw's " Barbara " prefers 
to do her own thinking; if she had let General Booth do it for her, there 
would have been no play. 

387 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Cusins, Lomax and " Snobby " Price. The play's greatest 
faults are the fantastic plot, the exaggerated discursiveness 
degenerating toward the close into rather wearisome prolixity, 
and the lack of conviction inspired by Barbara's " conversion " 
to Undershaftism at the close. The seriousness of the theme 
is everywhere lightened by the brilliancy of the dialogue, the 
deadly accuracy of the paradoxes, and the satiric portraiture 
of social types. But Shaw's incorrigible dialecticism leaves 
something to be desired; and we feel toward Shaw the play- 
wright much as Lady Britomart felt towards Undershaft. 
" Stop making speeches, Andrew," she says. " This is not 
the place for them " ; to which Undershaft {punctured) 
replies : " My dear, I have no other way of conveying my 
ideas." 
./ Shaw recently asserted that the " way to get the real Eng- 
lish public into the theatre was to give them plenty of politics, 
to suffuse the politics with religion, and have as many long 
speeches as possible. I knew this because I was in the habit 
of delivering long speeches to British audiences myself." At 
the Court Theatre, and later at the Savoy, Shaw drew the 
real English public to the theatre with the politics of John 
BulVs Other Island, the religion of Major Barbara, and the 
long speeches of these two and Man and Superman. In his next 
play, which he told me he regarded as his most human and 
most rational drama, Shaw's active and long-continued interest 
in modern medicine found full vent. " The theme of my new 
play is modern serumpathy; and the hero is a doctor," 
he wrote me while engaged upon the first act of The Doctor's 
Dilemma. 

One day in the summer of 1906, during a visit to the Shaws 
at Mevagissey on the seacoast of Cornwall, Mr. Granville 

Barker told Mrs. Shaw about a friend of his, a Dr. W , 

who had recently been treated for tuberculosis at a London 
hospital. Mrs. Shaw was struck by the recital, which prompted 
the consideration of the vast pains often taken by medical 

scientists to preserve the lives of people who, unlike Dr. W , 

were quite useless to the world. Such people, whose constitu- 
tions were hopelessly undermined, should not be dabbled over 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

for endless time to no purpose: it was agreed that they ought 
to be put into the lethal chamber. 

" Why, yes," exclaimed Mrs. Shaw in a moment of inspira- 
tion, " there's a play in that ! " 

Mr. Shaw replied : " Sure enough, I believe you are right. 
Hand me my tablet and I will go to work on it at once." The 
necessary writing materials were immediately handed him ; this 
was the beginning of The Doctor's Dilemma. 

Upon the leading motive of the play hinges the principal 
criticism which might be directed against Shaw as a realist. 
Almost everyone is inclined to maintain that, whereas problems 
of the most serious ethical significance confront even the most 
ordinary practitioner, the dilemma in which Ridgeon finds him- 
self placed is one that would never arise in actual experience. 
The truth of the matter is that the play is based upon an 
actual incident; and Mr. Shaw once related the story to me 

in detail. One day he was at St. M 's Hospital, London, 

visiting a famous physician, Sir A W . The size of 

the hospital admitted of only a few patients for treatment, 
say fifteen all told. In the course of the conversation, an 
assistant came in to report to the head of the hospital that 
some unknown man had made an urgent request to be taken 
in as a patient at the hospital. " Is he worth it ? " asked the 
eminent physician. " This gave me the clue to The Doctor's 
Dilemma, you see," explained Mr. Shaw. " A choice between 
those worthy and those unworthy to be treated, and presumably 
saved, was an ethical question inevitably arising in virtue of 
the cramped facilities of the hospital. The question whether 
the patient was physically worthless or not was in no sense an 
inhuman question ; and my own treatment, you see, is in no sense 
either freakish or inhuman." 

After Ibsen's death Shaw wrote a critical appreciation of 
Ibsen's work, in the course of which he said : " Ibsen seems to 
have succumbed without a struggle to the old notion that a 
play is not really a play unless it contains a murder, a suicide,^ 
or something else out of the Police Gazette. . . . The Brand 
infant and Little Eyolf are as tremendously effective as a blow 
below the belt; but they are dishonourable as artistic devices, 

389 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

because they depend on a morbid horror of death and a morbid 
enjoyment of horror." * Loyally championing Ibsen and the 
fundamental principles of drama — for the above quotation ap- 
peared to be nothing short of an attack upon tragedy — Mr. 
William Archer characterized Shaw's charge as " the sestheti- 
cism of the fox without a tail . . . the instinctive self- justifica- 
tion of the dramatist fatally at the mercy of his impish sense 
of humour." In a challenging tone he went on to aver that 
Shaw " eschews those profounder revelations of character 
which come only in crises of tragic circumstance. He shrinks 
from that affirmation and consummation of destiny which only 
death can bring. Death is, after all, one of the most important 
incidents of life, not only to him or her who dies, but to those * 
who survive. ... If , in Mr. Shaw's own phrase, ' the illumina- 
tion of life ' is the main purpose of drama, what illuminant, 
we may ask, can be more powerful than death? . . . It is 
not the glory but the limitation of Mr. Shaw's theatre that it 
is peopled by immortals." f 

A few weeks later — as Mr. Archer himself has recorded J — 
a paragraph appeared in the Tribune, " from an unexceptiona- 
ble source," announcing the practical completion of The Doc- 
tor's Dilemma. This was its substance: 

" Mr. Bernard Shaw has been taking advantage of his 
seaside holidays in Cornwall to write a new play. ... It 
is the outcome of the article in which Mr. William Archer 
penned a remarkable dithyramb to Death, and denied that 
Mr. Shaw could claim the highest rank as a dramatist 
until he had faced the King of Terrors on the stage. 
Stung by this reproach from his old friend, Mr. Shaw is 
writing a play all about death. . . . He has not evaded 
the challenge by a quip; the play is in five acts, with the 
fatal situation in the correct position — at the end of the 

* Ibsen, by G. Bernard Shaw; in the Clarion, June, 1906. 

f About the Theatre, by William Archer; in the Tribune (London), July 
14th, 1906. 

X About the Theatre: 'The Doctor's Dilemma' by William Archer; in 
the Tribune (London), December 29th, 1906. 

390 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

fourth. The death scene will be unlike any ever before 
represented." 

The conversation at Mevagissey and the incident at the hos- 
pital in London prior thereto were the real clues to the creation 
of The Doctor's Dilemma, Mr. Archer's " challenge," as Mr. 
Shaw assured me, happened to fit in conveniently with his al- 
ready formulated dramatic plan. When the play was actually 
produced, Mr. Archer triumphantly declared that Shaw had 
ingeniously evaded his challenge to " keep a straight face long 
enough to write a scene of pathos or of tragedy." He explained 
that " death, of all things, requires to be approached in hu- 
mility of spirit, and that humility has been omitted from Mr. 
Shaw's moral equipment. He must always be superior to every 
character, every emotion, every situation he portrays. . . . 
If the ' King of Terrors ' thinks he can perturb or overawe 
the cool, clear, quizzical intelligence of G. B. S., his majesty 
is very much mistaken. . . . As he (Mr. Shaw) is superior 
to life, there is no reason in the world why he should not be 
superior to death." * In a later article Mr. Archer maintained 
that Shaw had " doctored " the situation of Dubedat's death, i 
Moreover, Mr. Archer gave his case away in the words : " He 
has not treated death soberly, seriously, naturally, or, in a 
word, with a straight face. He has chosen an extremely excep- 
tional case, and has treated it realistically in outward detail; 
ironically in spirit and effect. It was not realism I demanded 
— it was poetry ! " t Now, to expect a man quintessentially 
an ironic and comedic dramatist to throw around death a halo 
of imaginative poetry is to commit the critical blunder of com- 
plaining of one author that he does not write like another — 
say, that Shaw does not write like Shakespeare. If there is 
anything that Shaw abhors, it is the spectacle of death made 
stage-sublime. And it is quite unreasonable not to expect a man 

* This very able and profound discussion, in which Mr. Archer gave 
the very fairest exposition of his real opinion of Shaw as personality and 
dramatist, revealed the fundamental issues of the vexed question at issue 
without in the least settling them. 

f About the Theatre: The Dissolution of Dubedat, by William Archer; 
in the Tribune (London), January 19th, 1907. 

391 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

who does not believe in personal immortality to be " superior 
yto death " ; and Shaw once said, as I have remarked elsewhere, 
that he was looking for a race of men who were not afraid to 
die. Death is approached in The Doctor's Dilemma with neither 
awe nor humility; not by the doctors who are professionally 
callous, or by the amoral atheist, Dubedat. We are made to 
realize Jennifer's anguish during Dubedat's dissolution; her 
action following Dubedat's death — the action of a Ouida or a 
Laurence Hope — is both logical and psychological. It is quite 
true that Shaw has not complied with Mr. Archer's unreasonable 
and extravagant request ; but he has treated the scene, allowing 
for the indispensable " heightening for dramatic effect," with 
acute psychological penetration, with wonderful art, and with 
absolute consistency to his own view of life — an eminently 
honest and square course to pursue. 

Various other incidents in the play, branded unqualifiedly by 
numerous critics as impish, in execrable taste, or frankly im- 
possible, are based upon actual occurrences ; the names of the 
parties concerned and the details are quite well known to others 
besides Shaw himself. For example, Dubedat's disgraceful sug- 
gestion about the worthless cheque, which of necessity must 
eventually be paid by Jennifer to avert Dubedat's disgrace, is 
an exact record of a similar proposal once made to Shaw him- 
self by a man whose name, because of its association with that 
of one of the greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century, is 
known all over the world. Dubedat's lack of any sense of 
obligation to finish pictures paid for before execution is paral- 
leled in an episode in the life of a well-known sculptor. The 
incident of the reporter's suggestion to interview the artist's 
widow five minutes after bereavement on " How it feels to be 
a widow," is founded on fact. " A few years ago," Shaw re- 
counts, " when Mrs. Patrick Campbell's husband died in South 
Africa, a leading London paper sent a man up on the instant 
to interview her. Of course, she didn't see him, and next morn- / 
ing the editor of the paper in his story of the death actually^ 
expressed grieved surprise at her lack of hospitality." There is 
a scene in the play in which Dubedat attempts to justify his 
conduct on the ground that he is a disciple of Bernard Shaw, 

392 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

whom he calls " the most advanced man now living." To re- 
move any misapprehension in the public mind on the subject, 
Shaw recently told the following story: 

" Some people have thought that by allowing the im- 
moral artist to say he was my disciple, I have virtually 
admitted that all my disciples die immoral and that im- 
morality is what my teachings amount to. Of course, that 
is not what I meant. The incident, as I say, was founded 
on fact. About six months ago a scampish youth tried 
to blackmail his own father, and the old gentleman, a 
most respectable person, was actually forced to prosecute 
him. At his trial the youth excused himself just as the 
dying artist in my play attempted to excuse himself — 
by asserting that he was a ' follower of Bernard Shaw.' 
Then the youth said some irreligious things that scandal- 
ized the judge, and finally got sent to prison, where he 
actually expected me to go to visit him and act as a sort 
of chaplain to him." * 

Lastly, there is the creed of the dying artist, beginning with 
the words : " I believe in Michael Angelo, Velasquez, and Rem- 
brandt " — universally deplored as impossible, to say nothing of 
its being in execrable taste. " This creed of the dying artist," 
Shaw found himself forced to explain, " which has been repro- 
bated on all hands as a sally of which only the bad taste of 
a Bernard Shaw could be capable, is openly borrowed with 
gratitude and admiration by me from one of the best known 
prose writings of the most famous man of the nineteenth century. 
In Richard Wagner's well-known story, dated 1841, and trans- 
lated under the title, An End in Paris, by Mr. Ashton Ellis 
(Vol. VII. of his translation of Wagner's prose works), the 
dying musician begins his creed with ' I believe in God, Mozart 
and Beethoven.' " t 

* The New York Times, December 30th, 1906. 

f'The Doctor's Dilemma/ in the Standard (London), November 22d, 
1906. Shaw's comment is characteristic: "It is a curious instance of the 
enormous Philistinism of English criticism that this passage should not 

393 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

\,S In The Doctor's Dilemma medical quackery and humbug are 
portrayed with a satiric verve truly Molieresque. The long 
first act does little to further the action beyond indicating 
that " to put a tube of serum into Bloomfield-Bonington's hands 
is murder — simple murder," and suggesting that Ridgeon has 
a temporary " idiosyncrasy " to fall in love with the first pretty 
woman that comes along. v^Fhe real purpose of the first act ^ 
is to portray' the state of modern medical science ; the quack- 
eries of M. Purgon and Mr. Diaf oirus come at once to mind, and K 
one feels that the picture drawn by Shaw is done much as 
Moliere would have done it, had he been alive to-day. In Du- 
bedat Mr. Max Beerbohm has discovered a strong resemblance 
to the Roderick Hudson of Henry James. One catches here 
and there, too, a suggestion of the Oscar Wilde who said : " If 
one love art at all, one must love it beyond all things in the 
world, and against such love the reason, if one listened to it, , 
would cry out. There is nothing sane about the worship of 
beauty. It is something entirely too splendid to be sane. 
Those of whose lives it forms the dominant note will always 
seem to the world to be pure visionaries." This figure of a 
clever young artist, of rare charm of temperament and phe- 
nomenal executive skill, who came to an early, untimely end 
through disease had several prototypes in actual life; but on 
the whole Dubedat must be regarded as a composite picture, 
and not a portrait." Dubedat raises the eternal question as 
to how far genius is a morbid symptom.* The most notable 

only be unknown among us, but that a repetition of its thought and imagery 
sixty-five years later should still find us with a conception of creative force 
so narrow that the association of Art with Religion conveys nothing to us 
but a sense of far-fetched impropriety." It is needless to remark that 
Dubedat omits God's name for the obvious reason that he does not believe 
in God. 
V * Shaw recently said: "I do not see how any observant student of genius 
from the life can deny that the Arts have their criminals and lunatics as 
well as their sane and honest men . . . and that the notion that the great 
poet and artist can do no wrong is as mischievously erroneous as the notion 
that the King can do no wrong, or that the Pope is infallible, or that the 
power which created all three did not do its own best for them. In my 
last play, The Doctor's Dilemma, I recognized this by dramatizing a rascally 
genius, with the disquieting result that several highly intelligent and 
sensitive persons passionately defended him, on the ground, apparently, 

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passage in the play is the discussion between Sir Colenso 
Ridgeon and Sir Patrick Cullen as to the worthlessness of 
Dubedat, and the value of Blenkinsop. 

" Well, Mr. Saviour of Lives," asks Sir Patrick, " which is it 
to be — that honest man, Blenkinsop, or that rotten blackguard 
of an artist, eh? " 

"It's not an easy case to judge, is it?" queries Ridgeon. 
" Blenkinsop's an honest, decent man ; but is he any use ? Du- 
bedat's a rotten blackguard ; but he's a genuine source of pretty 
and pleasant and good things." 

" What will he be a source of for that poor innocent wife of 
his, when she finds him out? " 

" That's true. Her life is a hell." 

" And tell me this : Suppose you had this choice put before 
you: Either to go through life and find all the pictures bad, 
but all the men and women good, or to go through life and 
find all the pictures good and the men and women rotten. 
Which would you choose? " 

" That's a devilish difficult question, Paddy. The pictures 
are so agreeable, and the good people so infernally disagreeable 
and mischievous, that I really can't undertake to say off-hand 
which I should prefer to do without." 

" Come, come ! none of your cleverness with me : I'm too old 
for it. Blenkinsop isn't that sort of good man; and you 
know it." 

" It would be simpler if Blenkinsop could paint Dubedat's 
pictures." 

" It would be simpler still if Dubedat had some of Blen- 
kinsop's honesty. The world isn't going to be made simpler for 
you, my lad : you must take it as it is." 



that high artistic faculty and an ardent artistic imagination entitled a man 
to be recklessly dishonest about money, and recklessly selfish about women, 
just as kingship in an African tribe entitles a man to kill whom he pleases 
on the most trifling provocation. I know no harder practical question than 
how much selfishness one ought to stand from a gifted person for the sake 
of his gifts or the chance of his being right in the long run." — The Sanity 
of Art: An Exposure of the Current Nonsense about Artists being De- 
generate, by Bernard Shaw, pp. 11-12; The New Age Press (London), 1908. 
This brochure is also published by Benjamin R. Tucker, New York. 

396 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

After further discussion, Sir Patrick finally poses the issue 
in clear-cut terms: 

" It's a plain choice between men and pictures." 

" It's easier to replace a dead man than a good picture," 
parries Ridgeon. 

" Colly, when you live in an age that runs to pictures and 
statues and plays and brass bands, because its men and women 
are not good enough to comfort its poor aching soul, you 
should thank Providence that you belong to a high and great 
profession, because its business is to heal and mend men and 
women." 

" In short, as a member of a high and great profession, I am 
to kill my patient." 

" Don't talk wicked nonsense. You can't kill him. But you 
can leave him in other hands." 

"In B. B.'s, for instance, eh?" queries Ridgeon, looking at 
Sir Patrick significantly. 

" Sir Ralph Bloomfield-Bonington is a very eminent phy- 
sician." 

" He is," accedes Ridgeon. 

" I'm going for my hat," adds Sir Patrick, with conclusive 
finality. 

Whilst all the characters are admirably drawn and sharply 
individualized, Shaw's inspiration is singularly displayed in 
making of Jennifer a native of Cornwall, that land of rhapsodic 
faith and splendid religious enthusiasm. She is a true child of 
nature, impulsive and romantic, to whom belief in Dubedat's 
genius, much more than love for his personality, has become 
nothing short of a religion. To engarb herself in the " purple 
pall of tragedy," the instant Dubedat is dead, is a perfectly 
characteristic action. " Jennifer is an impossible person to live 
with, I grant you," Mr. Shaw once remarked to me, " but it 
is clear to me that her impulsiveness and her unquestioning 
fidelity to Dubedat's memory must find immediate expression 
in fulfilment of the dying injunction of her King of Men. Even 
if I had been writing a novel, in which the treatment is more 
leisurely " — this in answer to my question — " I should have 
made her act precisely as she did." 

397 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

y The first three acts of The Doctor's Dilemma are as able in 
treatment and solid in workmanship as anything Shaw has ever 
achieved. The pervasive comic irony is tremendous; and if in 
the latter part of the play there is a regrettable drop into 
farce-comedy, one should remember that this is a fault shared 
in by the plays of Sheridan and Moliere. The anti-climax of the 
epilogue is banal — " a sell " of the true Shavian brand. It is 
exceedingly amusing to the dispassionate onlooker to note the 
discomfiture of the dismayed audience over the discovery that 
the enigmatic author regards the identity of Jennifer's second 
husband as a quite pointless secret between Jennifer and Ber- 
nard Shaw ! * 

" I have just finished a crude melodrama in one act — the 
4 crudity and melodrama both intentional," Mr. Shaw wrote me 
on March 15th, 1909, " which I should say will be played by 
Tree if it were not that my plays have such an extraordinary 
power of getting played by anybody in the world rather than by 
the people for whom they were originally intended." Even then, 
it seems, Mr. Shaw dimly foresaw the banning of his play by 
the King's Reader of Plays, and the enforced alteration of 
plans for its production entailed by that decision. Promised 
initial production by Sir (then Mr.) H. Beerbohm Tree, "the 
first of our successful West End managers to step into the gap 
left by the retirement of Messrs. Vedrenne and Barker from 
what may be called National Theatre work with his Afternoon 
Theatre," Blanco Posnet was driven away to far-off Dublin, 
where it first saw the light of production. Upon no play of 
Shaw's, with the single exception of Mrs. Warren's Profession, 
are we so fully " documented " — primarily due in both cases 
to the interdict of the Censorship. Fortunately a letter which 
Shaw wrote to Tolstoy in the autumn of 1909 gives a detailed 
account of the genesis of the play. Tolstoy had been reading 
Shaw's plays, and evinced much interest in the plot of Blanco 
Posnet as it had come to his ears. He expressed a wish to 

* I have had the privilege of reading Mr. Shaw's copy of The Doctor's 
Dilemma. Consideration of Getting Married, Misalliance and The Dark 
Lady of the Sonnets, all unpublished in English at this time (November, 
1910), is postponed for a subsequent edition of the present work. 

398 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

read the play, says Mr. Aylmer Maude in his biography of 
Tolstoy, " because, as he said, to many people the working of 
man's conscience is the only proof of the existence of a God." * 
When Mr. Maude repeated this conversation to Mr. Shaw, the 
latter sent Tolstoy a copy of the play with the following letter 
(quoted in part) : 

" My dear Count Tolstoy, — I send you herewith, 
through our friend, Aylmer Maude, a copy of a little play 
called The Showing Up of Blanco Posnet. s Showing up ' 
is American slang for unmasking a hypocrite. In form 
it is a very crude melodrama, which might be played in 
a mining camp to the roughest audience. 

" It is, if I may say so, the sort of play you do extraor- 
dinarily well. I remember nothing in the whole range of 
drama that fascinated me more than the old soldier in 
your Power of Darkness. One of the things that struck me 
in that play was the feeling that the preaching of the 
old man, right as he was, could never be of any use — that 
it could only anger his son and rub the last grains of 
self-respect out of him. But what the pious and good 
father could not do, the old rascal of a soldier did as if 
he was the voice of God. To me that scene where the two 
drunkards are wallowing in the straw, and the older rascal 
lifts the younger one above his cowardice and his selfishness, 
has an intensity of effect that no merely romantic scene 
could possibly attain; and in Blanco Posnet I have ex- 
ploited in my own fashion this mine of dramatic material 
which you were the first to open up to modern playwrights. 

" I will not pretend that its mere theatrical effectiveness 
was the beginning and end of its attraction for me. I am 
not an ' Art-f or-Art's sake ' man, and would not lift my 
finger to produce a work of art if I thought there was 
nothing more than that in it. It has always been clear to 
me that the ordinary methods of inculcating honourable 
conduct are not merely failures, but — still worse — they 

* The Life of Tolstoy : Later Years, by Aylmer Maude ; Constable and 
Co., 1910. 

399 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

actually drive generous and imaginative persons into a 
dare-devil defiance of them. We are ashamed to be good 
boys at school, ashamed to be gentle and sympathetic in- 
stead of violent and revengeful, ashamed to confess that 
we are very timid animals instead of reckless idiots, in short, 
ashamed of everything that ought to be the basis of our 
self-respect. All this is the fault of the teaching which 
tells men to be good without giving them any better reason 
for it than the opinion of men who are neither attractive 
to them, nor respectful to them, and who, being much 
older, are to a great extent not only incomprehensible to 
them, but ridiculous. Elder Daniels will never convert 
Blanco Posnet: on the contrary, he perverts him, because 
Blanco does not want to be like his brother ; and I think 
the root reason why we do not do as our fathers advise us 
to do is that we none of us want to be like our fathers, the 
intention of the Universe being that we should be like God." 

It is inconceivable that this play should have been banned by 
the Censorship.* It is a story of religious conversion, told 
with sincerity and depth of conviction. So far is it from being 
irreverent that it may, with truth, be described as the most 

*The Censor objected to two passages; the second passage Mr. Shaw 
was perfectly willing to alter, but not so the first — Blanco's story of his 
conversion, so reminiscent of the style of Job, in which he describes how 
God " caught him out at last." This first passage, which Mr. Shaw rightly 
considered to embody the crux and central meaning of the play, he refused 
point-blank to alter. The play was next promised production by the Abbey 
Theatre, Dublin. A certain passage which was subject to misinterpretation 
was willingly altered by Mr. Shaw at the suggestion of Lady Gregory; and 
the phrase, " Dearly beloved brethren," and the use of the word " immoral " 
in description of Feemy's relations with the men of the village, were 
omitted in deference to the wishes of the Lord-Lieutenant. The directors 
of the Abbey Theatre, Lady Gregory and Mr. W. B. Yeats, were warned by 
the Lord-Lieutenant that their patent for the theatre might be withdrawn in 
case the play offended popular and religious sentiment in Ireland. Despite 
these warnings, the play was successfully produced on August 25th, 1909. 
" The audience took it in a very friendly manner," wrote the dramatic critic 
of the Times (London), "laughing heartily at its humours, passing over its 
dangerous passages with attentive silence, calling loudly but in vain for the 
author at the close." There was no sensation and no excitement — and no 
cause for any. The Irish Times said that if ridicule were as deadly in 

400 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

sincerely religious of all of Shaw's plays. " Like flies to 
wanton boys are we to the Gods," says Shakespeare : " they kill 
us for their sport." Like pawns in the great game of life are 
we to God, says Shaw; He uses us for His own great purpose. 
" There's no good and bad," says Posnet in his puncheon-bench 
sermon ; " but by Jiminy, gents, there's a rotton game, and 
there's a great game. I played the rotten game ; but the great 
game was played on me ; and now I'm for the great game every 
time. Amen." It is the final expression in Shaw of that neo- 
Protestantism which had already found more or less adequate 
expression in The Devil's Disciple and Major Barbara. It needs 
no exposition here — especially after Shaw's expository letter 
to Tolstoy.* One word only as to the play's " crudity." To 
an American, familiar with the scenes and conditions described, 
its pseudo-realism is grotesque in its unreality. Fortunately 
the import of the play is in no wise impaired by the fact that 
Shaw has been unsuccessful in assimilating Bret Harte. 

During the latter part of March, and the month of April, 
1909, Mr. Shaw, accompanied by Mrs. Shaw, went for his health 
on a motoring tour through Algeria. His next play, which he 

England and Ireland as it is in France, the Censorship would be "blown 
away in the shouts of laughter that greeted Blanco Posnet." In September, 
1909, the play was once again presented to the Censor for consideration — 
in the meantime the author having rewritten an important passage after it 
had been tested in rehearsal. Miss Horniman wished to produce it at her 
Repertory Theatre in Manchester. "What the Censorship has actually 
done," said Mr. Shaw in comment on the decision, " exceeds the utmost 
hopes of those who, like myself, have devoted themselves to its destruction. 
It has licensed the play, and endorsed on the licence specific or- 
ders that all its redeeming passages shall be omitted in representation. 
I may have my insolent prostitute, my bloodthirsty, profane backwoods- 
men, my atmosphere of coarseness, of savagery, of mockery, and all the 
foul darkness which I devised to make the light visible; but the light must 
be left out. I may wallow in filth, ferocity and sensuality, provided I do 
not hint that there is any force in Nature higher and stronger than these." 
Subsequently the play was successfully produced under the auspices of the 
Incorporated Stage Society, at the Aldwych Theatre, London, December 
5th and 6th, 1909, by the Irish National Theatre Society's Company from 
the Abbey Theatre, Dublin. 

* For detailed and excellent expositions of the purport of the play — 
particularly helpful at the time of the banning by the Censorship — compare 
The Incorrigible Censorship, in the Nation, July 29th, 1909; and an open 
letter to the Spectator of September 4th, 1909, by George A. Birmingham. 

401 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

had been requested to write on the chosen subject by Mr. Forbes 
Robertson, was written at odd moments during this trip. The 
play, described by Mr. Shaw as an " ordinary skit," was aptly 
entitled Press Cuttings: A Topical Sketch compiled from the 
Editorial and Correspondence Columns of the Daily Papers. In 
form, it is very like, though superior in characterization, to a 
Paris revue; Julius Bab has pronounced it vastly above the con- 
temporary German Witzblatt. Its appearance just at the time 
when the activities of the " militant " suffragettes were at their 
height, was peculiarly a propos. Once again, the Censorship 
intervened to ban one of Shaw's plays — this time on the ground 
that Mr. Shaw was guilty, not of blasphemy, but of employing 
" personalities, expressed or implied." The Civic and Dramatic 
Guild was immediately created to evade the interdict of the 
Censorship, and the play was produced for the first time at 
Jthe Royal Court Theatre, London, on July 9th, 1909.* The 
indignation aroused among dramatic authors and critics by 
the banning of two of Mr. Shaw's plays in succession at last 
focussed the opposition to the Censorship ; and the dissatisfac- 
tion with its operation, which had made itself felt vigorously, 
but more or less intermittently, for a number of years thitherto, 
finally crystallized. A special committee, from both Houses, 
was appointed by Parliament, to examine into and report on 
the operation of the Censorship, and, if necessary, to make 
recommendations as to its powers and functions for the future. 
Many sittings were held, and a large number of the leading 
men of letters in Great Britain, including Mr. Shaw himself, 
actors, theatre-managers, bishops, men of various shades of 
opinion, gave evidence before the committee. One result of 
the sittings of that committee f has been the establishment of 

* The play was subsequently produced successfully at the Gaiety Theatre, 
Manchester, October 18th, 1909, and at the Kingsway Theatre, London, 
June 21st, 1910, at a benefit matinee organized by the Actresses' Franchise 
League. The Reader of Plays allowed the production of the play after the 
change of the names of " Balsquith " and " Mitchener " to " Johnson " and 
" Bones," respectively. 

f Report of the Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and the 
House of Commons on the Stage Plays (Censorship), together with the 
Proceedings of the Committee, and Minutes of Evidence; Eyre and Spottis- 
woode, 1909. The many questions which intimately concern the free devel- 

402 



NATIONAL UNION OF WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE SOCIETIES 



A BENEFIT MATINEE 

Organist by THE ACTRESSES' FRANCHISE LEAGUE 

Will be given on Tuesday, June 21st, at 2.30 p.m , 

THE KING8WAY THEATRE 



"HOW THE VOTE WAS WON" 

By Cicm-v Hamilton and CSRisTOrgfR St. Johw 
WITH AN ENTIRELY STA* CAST. 

"PRESS CUTTINGS 1 ' 

By GEORGE BERNARD SHAW. 

Recitation by Mim ft§AXIN£ ELLIOTT 



The following Artistes are kindly giving their services—- 

Miss Lilian Braithwaite Miss Lillah McCarthy 

Miss Adelwe Bourne Miss Edyth Olive 

Miss Alice Crawford Miss Nella Powys 

Miss Marianne Caldwell Miss Beatrice Forbes Robbrvson 

Miss Pollic Emery Miss Agnes Thomas 

Miss Di Forbes Miss Haider Wright 

Miss Maud Hoffman* Miss May Whitty 

Miss Auriol Lee etc. 

Mr Leslie Fabrr Mr. Edward Rigby 

Mr O. P Heggib Mr. Ben Webster 

and Others 

*5MP A RECEPTION 

Will be held in the Foyer of the Theatre, by 

Miss G32¥&3?£tl7D£: 22£»X«XO®& 

(Mrs. Forbes Robertson, President ol the Actresses' Franchise Leagne), 



TICKETS • Stalls. 10$. 6d. Dress Circle. 7$. 6d. antf 6ft. 
Upper Circle. 4s \ 3s. and 2s* Pit, 2s. «d. 

Con be obtained from the Offices of the Rational Union of Womro'e Sufirage Societies, Parliament 
Chambers, Greet Smith Street; aod the Actresses' Franchise L ague, Addpni Terrace House. 

Tea Tickets It* the Reception (of which a limited number only 

- . , ^ . J , will be issued), as. each 

D. A. & S., Ltd., Loodoo 

Playbill of Press Cuttings. 

The Kingsway Theatre, London. June 21st, 1910. National Union of 
Women's Suffrage Societies. Direction of Actresses' Franchise League. 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

an advisory board in connection with the Censorship. In many 
quarters hopes are expressed that a Bill will be passed by Par- 
liament for the purpose of ameliorating the hardships of dra- 
matic authors under the present operation of the Censorship, and 
of giving greater encouragement to the free development of 
a national English drama in the future. 
\J Press Cuttings is the most perfectly amusing thing Shaw has 
written in many years. It recalls the days of delightful irre- 
sponsibility, which seemed to have passed for ever — the days 
of Arms and the Man and You Never Can Tell. The adverse 
decision of the Censorship is inconceivable, in the light of the 
sanction of Mr. Barrie's Josephine, in which Mr. Chamberlain 
and Mr. Balfour were " caricatured," and even a number of 
their public utterances put in the mouths of the characters obvi- 
ously impersonating them. Mr. Shaw's Balsquith (Balfour- 
Asquith) and Mitchener (Milner-Kitchener) bear not the faint- 
est resemblance to any of the personages suggested by their 
names — representing merely, in a light of broadly farcical- 
comedy, a prime minister and a head of the army. From the 
situation arising from reversing the roles of man and woman, 
due to the agitation of the " militant suffragettes " — woman 
developing all the " manly " qualities of pugnacity and over- 
bearing insolence, man developing the " womanly " qualities of 
timidity and indecision — Shaw has extracted a comedy that is 
breezily, devastatingly comical. But, even in a topical sketch, 
Shaw from time to time " puts away childish things " and shows 
us the serious sides of several subjects. Those who indulge in 

opment of the national drama in England, arising in connection with the 
investigation of the Censorship, fall outside the scope of the present work. 
They will be considered in detail in a subsequent volume dealing with the 
movements in dramatic art associated with Mr. Shaw's name. Mr. Shaw, 
desiring to have his full views on the Censorship included in the printed 
report, had a volume printed at his own expense which he filed with the 
committee. The committee decided by vote not to allow this printed 
evidence to be printed in their report. This volume, entitled Statement 
of the Evidence in Chief of George Bernard Shaw before the Joint Com- 
mittee on Stage Plays (Censorship and Theatre Licensing), printed pri- 
vately and marked " Confidential," constitutes a remarkable indictment 
against the Censorship, and an elaborate exposition of grounds for the 
abolition of the Censorship as at present constituted. 

404 



THE PLAYWRIGHT— III 

the futile claim that men are more useful to the world than 
women will find food for serious reflection in the passage in 
Shaw's play in which General Mitchener tries to excuse himself 
for giving way to profanity. He is sternly reproved by the 
Irish charwoman, Mrs. Far r ell — admirably played by that re- 
markable character-actress, Miss Agnes Thomas. 

" When a man has risked his life on eight battlefields, Mrs. 
Farrell," pleads the General in extenuation, " he has given suf- 
ficient proof of his self-control to be excused a little strong 
language." 

" Would you put up with strong language from me," queries 
Mrs. Farrell pertinently, " because I've risked me life eight times 
in childbed?" 

" My dear Mrs. Farrell," expostulates the General, " you 
surely would not compare a risk of that harmless kind to the 
fearful risks of the battlefield? " 

" I wouldn't compare risks run to bear livin' people into the 
world to risks run to blow them out of it," replies Mrs. Farrell 
conclusively. "A mother's risk is jooty; a soldier's is nothin' 
but divilment." 

The popular hysteria in the fear of German invasion is re- 
flected with great cleverness in the discussions between Mitchener 
and Balsquith, and Mitchener's vigorous asseveration caps the 
climax. 

" Let me tell you, Balsquith, that in these days of aeroplanes 
and Zeppelin airships the question of the moon is becoming one 
of the greatest importance. It will be reached at no very dis- 
tant date. Can you, as an Englishman, tamely contemplate the 
possibility of having to live under a German moon? " 
\/ Shaw's admirable art in character-creation is portrayed in 
the figure of the orderly, a very minor part. In a brief scene 
or two, he shows us a definite, clear-cut character, full of 
humour, consistency and point. The orderly, with the sharp- 
ened vision of common sense, has penetrated the great draw*^ 
back to military service in England. The National Service 
League might well ponder Shaw's words : " With regard to 
military service, the only real objection to it in this country 
is the fact that at present the man who enlists as a soldier loses 

405 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

all his civil rights and becomes simply an abject slave. Sooner 
than submit to such conditions, which are wholly unnecessary 
and mischievous, the country, I consider, would be perfectly 
justified in resisting any such measure by violent revolution. 
^ " On the other hand, there is no reason why a man should 
not be compelled to do military service just as he is compelled 
to serve on a jury or to pay his taxes, provided that his civil 
rights are unimpaired." 



406 



THE TECHNICIAN 

"Like all dramatists and mimes of genuine vocation, I am a natural- 
born mountebank." — On Diabolonian Ethics. Preface to Three Plays for 
Puritans. 



CHAPTER XIII 

THE drama is the casual, not the inevitable, vehicle for the ^ 
exposition of Bernard Shaw's theories of conduct. This 
dramatist of " genuine vocation," as he once denominated him- 
self, was literally " called " to the post of dramatist for the 
New Movement. He was a " pressed " man, a conscript in the 
service of the theatre. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that 
Shaw entered the ranks and took up arms against a sea of 
twaddle, not initially impelled by the inner, imperious necessity 
for creative expression, but fired with the desire to prove that 
he could write plays. According to his own statement, he pro- 
ceeded to manufacture the evidence. At one time or another 
throughout his varied career he has employed almost every 
conceivable medium — novelistic, journalistic, critical, artistic, 
propagandist — for the communication of his unique and pecu- 
liar views. For the last eighteen years the drama has afforded 
him the most popular instrument for the wide diffusion of his 
brilliance. The drama has never been the supreme interest of 
his career; nor, indeed, as he recently told me, has it played 
any very absorbing part in his life until within the last nine 
or ten years. The American " discovery " of Shaw as a 
" new " dramatist amused him immensely, even awoke in him 
a sense of slight disappointment. He had rather hoped that 
he would not be " found out " until some years after his death ! 
At last he saw that he must reconcile himself to the inevitable 
and make the best of the matter, since it could not be helped ! 
" To me," he said in a letter to me, after the Candida furore 
in New York, " all the fuss about Candida is only a remote 
ripple from the splashes I made in the days of my warfare 
long ago." 

Whether or not the drama has played a very absorbing part 
in Shaw's own life, it is certain that this is the field in which 
he has been most strikingly successful in making a world-wide 

409 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

reputation. Until Candida created such a stir in New York, 
he was regarded in America as a phenomenally clever dilettante 
in novelism, in art, music, and dramatic criticism; in fact, as 
• anything but a dramatist. He was all but unheard of on the 
Continent until his plays gained admittance to the broadly 
catholic repertory of the German Theatre.* To-day Georg 
Brandes writes of him, not as a critic, a novelist, or a Socialist, 
but as the leader of the most modern, most advanced drama in 
England. Julius Bab pronounces Shaw the greatest spiritual 1 ' 
phenomenon since Nietzsche, the greatest literary success since 
Ibsen. The time has come for a serious consideration of the 
question whether he is a good dramatist, a bad dramatist, or, 
in fact, whether, in the last analysis, he is a dramatist at all. 
Remarkable as it may appear, it is the last question upon which 
some of the acutest dramatic critics are divided. Moreover, it 
remains vivid that Shaw has made some distinct and original 
contributions to dramatic theory and practice. If Shaw were 
to paint a portrait or model a piece of sculpture, there is no 
doubt that he would produce a work presenting evidence of a 
keen and searching intelligence. Upon the drama, from the 
questions of prefaces, stage-directions, and technique down to 
that of punctuation, Shaw has left the marks of an adroit and 
sagacious ratiocinative faculty. 

In his search for a field other than fiction and criticism for 
the free play of his " abnormally normal vision," Shaw's eye 
fell upon the stage. He recognized that the existing popular 
drama of the day is " quite out of the question for cultivated 
people who are accustomed to use their brains." Looking about 

* Almost all of Bernard Shaw's plays have been produced at the most 
distinguished and artistic theatres of German Europe. In gaining the 
German stage, he won a leading position in world-drama. Compare, for 
example, the statement of Herr Carl Hagemann in his recent book 
Aufgaben des Modernen Theaters: " Neben den anerkannten Vertretern der 
Biihne der Lebenden (Ibsen, Hauptmann, Schnitzler und andere — im 
Musikdrama: Wagner), miissen audi die Jungeren und Jiingsten erschienen 
(alle die Wedekind, Hoffmannsthal, Vollmoeller, Eulenberg, Wilde, Shaw, 
Strindberg — im Musikdrama Strauss, Schillings, Humperdinck, Wein- 
gartner, Pfitzner, Blech, Siegfried Wagner)." Hermann Bahr recently said 
that a Shaw premiere is as great an event in Berlin as a Hauptmann 
premier e. 

410 



THE TECHNICIAN 

him, he soon perceived that under present conditions the mod- 
ern theatre creates the drama, despite the fact that the reverse 
is the ideal state of affairs. No one more than the idealistic 
Shaw deplores the present vogue of the musical comedy, the 
problem play which substitutes sensuous ecstasy for intellec- 
tual validity, and the well-made piece in which the plot is 
hatched by the stage-setting. To him, as to another, modern 
dramas may be classified under a few heads: neurotic, erotic, 
Pinerotic, and tommyrotic. The whole difficulty has arisen 
through the drama of the day being written " for the theatre 
instead of from its own inner necessity." The only way to 
reform the theatre was by constructive effort. Realizing that 
reformation and regeneration could come only from within, 
and more especially from the man of abnormally normal vision, 
George Bernard Shaw — he set to work to effect the needed 
reforms. 

Piquancy was imparted to the situation by the fact that 
•'Shaw was one of those restless modern spirits who are out of 
patience with the existing status, not only in the drama, but 
in the world at large. By his own confession, he ran counter 
to all conventional standards.* An Irishman by birth, an 
/Englishman by adoption, he pretended to patriotism neither 
for the land of his nativity nor for the country to which it ^ 
owed its ruin. A humanitarian, he detested warfare of any 
kind; a vegetarian, he abhorred the slaughter of animals, mV 
sport or in the butcher's yard. An enthusiastic Ibsenist, he 
paralleled the Master in having no respect for popular mo- 
rality, no admiration for popular heroics, no belief in popular 
religion. An art critic, he had no taste for popular art; a 
Socialist, profoundly imbued with .an enthusiasm for social 
truth as an instrument of social reform, he was out of patience 
with the lagging snail-pace at which the world moved. The 
times were out of joint; but, unlike Hamlet, as Mr. Norman 
Hapgood suggests, he deemed it no cursed spite that he was 
born to set them right. 

It is not to be wondered at that the acutely individualized 

* The following characterization closely follows his own words in Mainly 
about Myself, preface to Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant, Vol. I. 

411 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Shaw should feel the necessity of outlining his unusual, almost 
unparalleled frame of mind. As a public speaker, his aim had */ 
always been, not to awake the primitive feelings of the mob, but 
to make each individual in his audience think new thoughts : 
elucidation, not oratory, was the keynote of his public speeches. 
As a critic he had sought to speak out his whole thought with- 
out disguise : he dallied with no professional phraseology. He 
addressed the man who knew nothing of technique; accord- 
ingly, he wrote in the vernacular of every day. Clarity, lu- 
cidity and wit were the standards at which he aimed. In like 
manner, his sincere effort toward the constructive achievement 
of the " New Drama " necessitated the most elaborate elucida- 
tion of his views, aims and methods. As Mr. Walkley has 
pointed out, Bernard Shaw is nothing if not explanatory. By 
prefaces, appendices and epilogues, he endeavours to raise the 
intellectual standard of public opinion, which to him repre- 
sents the will of the ignorant majority as opposed to that of 
the discerning few. It is matter for no surprise that such a 
strange phenomenon as Shaw should have led the critics astraj*^"" 
Few men in their lifetime have been so fundamentally misunder- 
stood, so farcically misrepresented: Beyle, Shelley, Wilde, 
naturally come to mind. Shaw resolved to fight against mis- 
representation with the many effective weapons, the use of 
which, from long and arduous practice, he had so well learned. 
The haughty aloofness of an Ibsen with his " Quod scripsi, 
scripsi" the unconscious self-forgetfulness of a Browning in 
the oft-recorded anecdote of " me und Gott," the lofty injunc- 
tion of a Goethe " Bilde, Kunstler, rede nicht" weighed with 
him not at all. The man who had first caught the ear of the 
British public on a cart in Hyde Park, to the blaring of brass 
bands, was not the man soon to forget his lesson. Shaw has 
never discarded the trumpet and the cart-wheel declamation. 
This is not merely the device to attract attention for the mo- 
ment, but to win a hearing long enough to awaken thought 
upon the views he so adroitly and wittily expounds. He writes 
prefaces and appendices because he believes that an author 
should not merely allow his works to speak for themselves, but 
should present their claims to intelligent consideration with his 

412 



THE TECHNICIAN 

utmost literary skill. Shaw avers that, like Dryden, he writes 
prefaces because he can. The crass ignorance, the unspeakable 
fatuity of his critics have driven him to it. Shaw writes pref- 
aces not only because he can : he writes them because he must. 

The rare and ancient custom of preface-writing is now almost */ 
a lost art. Shaw is virtually the only modern dramatist who 
writes expository and critical prefaces. His prefaces are little 
masterpieces of ess ay- writing. After The Quintessence of 
Ibsenism, they measure the high-water mark of Shaw's supreme 
talent as a polemist, a dialectician, a gorgeous and extravagant 
paradoxer. " In finely polyglot style " j'en chortle, as chortled 
Stevenson over the admirable Bashville. Inimitable, incom- 
parable are these prefaces, vitally animate with the fantastic 
humours of the prankish Max, the solemn absurdities of Mark 
Twain, the mordant irony of Henry Becque. Shaw turns a 
paradox as dexterously as Chesterton, bubbles with self- 
persiflage as delightfully as Whistler, mocks the stolid British 
Philistine with an exasperating acuity for which we have to go 
to Heine to find a parallel. William Archer has said that one 
of the prefaces of Dumas fUs might have been the product of 
collaboration between Isaiah, Tolstoy and Bernard Shaw. Any 
of the prefaces of Bernard Shaw might have been the product 
of a collaboration between Dumas fils, Friedrich Nietzsche, and 
that great American showman, P. T. Barnum. 

Shaw's incorrigible practice of writing prefaces is the per- 
fectly logical outcome of his point of view. The direct 
corollary of this practice is Shaw's distinctly original contri- 
bution to the technology of modern realistic drama in the mat- 
ter of ample elucidative and descriptive stage directions. For 
reasons similar to those that actuated Gerhart Hauptmann to 
draw plans and write pages of stage directions to compel a 
clear visualization of the scenes of his early social drama, Vor 
Sonnenaufgang, Shaw describes in lucid and illuminating stage 
directions of considerable length the traits, qualities and char- 
acteristics of the people and places that play determining parts 
in his dramas. From the standpoint of the dramatic critic, 
he long ago recognized the bankruptcy of the old school of 
acting. Its technique was wholly inadequate for the interpre- 

413 



•" 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

tation of the plays of Ibsen and the modern school of realistic 
dramatists. A new fingering of the dramatic keyboard was 
demanded. The sophistication of the actor's consciousness by 
romance could be obviated only by the most cunning por- 
traiture of each character. To aid the actor in every possible 
way to realize unusual states of mind and apparently aberrant 
views of ethical conceptions, Shaw drew the most tersely de- s 
scriptive character sketches of the sort of person he meant 
the actor to incarnate. These little thumb-nail sketches are 
marvels of character-drawing in miniature. The German Shaw, 
Hermann Bahr, has paralleled, if not followed, Shaw in de- 
scribing each personage, as he appears, with photographic 
minuteness, but with nothing like the piquancy and originality 
of his predecessor. Shaw has always fulminated against the 
romancer's habit of announcing his hero as a man of extraor- 
dinary genius, and yet totally failing to reinforce this an- 
nouncement in his subsequent speech and action. Shaw com- 
plains even of Ibsen that he has left entirely too much to the 
reader's and the actor's imagination and insight. Is Bork- 
man a real Napoleon of Finance or only an hallucinated im- 
postor? What reason have we to believe, barring the author's 
statement, that Lovborg was actually a creative genius, that 
Allmers was in the least degree capable of a masterwork on 
Human Responsibility, or that Solness was an architect of 
exceptional original power? When interrogated as to his 
meaning, for example, Ibsen haughtily replies : " What I have 
said, I have said." But, as Shaw pertinently indicates, what 
he hasn't said, he hasn't said. Whether uniformly successful 
or not, Shaw, as practical playwright, has made a definite 
contribution to modern realistic drama by conscientiously seek- 
ing to remedy in his own plays the defect he has discovered in 
Ibsen, the consummate craftsman of the age. Shaw's descrip- 
tions, not only of the characters, but of the scenes in which 
these characters are set, are little essays in social criticism. 
The description of the dentist's operating-room in You Never 
Can Tell, or of Ramsden's study in Man and Superman, is at 
once the epitome and the indictment of an entire social era, of 
a phase of ethical or industrial evolution. It intrigues the 

414 



THE TECHNICIAN 

fancy, as Whistler used to say, to make the ludicrous, if futile, 
inquiry whether the fate of heroes, the destiny of humanity, 
depend upon the upholstery of the chairs, the ornaments upon 
the mantel-shelf, or the pattern of the wall-paper! 

Among contemporary dramatists, Bernard Shaw is an ex- 
ponent of that modern movement of which, as Mr. Chesterton . 
has recently reminded us, Robert Browning, among modern 
poets, was the fount and origin — the school whose chief char- 
acteristic is the apotheosis of the insignificant. Like Brown- 
ing, Shaw has " ceased to believe certain things to be important 
and the rest to be unimportant." He has resolved to distil 
the quintessence of the unessential. By the cultivation of sub- 
jective intensity, Maurice Maeterlinck has opened our eyes 
to the miracle of the commonplace, the treasure of the humble. 
By examining the neglected, George Gissing has revealed the 
importance of the trivial. With an imaginative insight that 
subsequently finds verification in real life, Henrik Ibsen depicts 
a soul's tragedy in a married woman's loss of her dolls. In 
conformity with the realistic logic of his race, Paul Hervieu 
traces the finger of fate in the colour of a woman's bonnet. 
Realizing those queer mental experiences that the ordinary ob- 
server would not see or could not describe, George Meredith 
illumines the obscurity of fugitive and subconscious sensations. 
Bernard Shaw arraigns a social era in his description of a 
parlour because he has learnt the supreme importance of detail, 
the mystery and immensity of little things. 

Shaw was driven to the expedients of preface and exhaustive 
stage-direction not alone by the false critical interpretations y^ 
q{ his plays, by the actor's failure to divine the rationale of his 
characters, and by the evolutionary trend of modern realistic 
art. He also felt the necessity of falling back upon his own 
literary expertness in order to restore the English drama to 
anything like its former level of estimation in English litera- 
ture. In that barren period of dramatic unproductivity, ap- 
proximately speaking, from 1835 to 1885, the habit of reading 
plays, which had obtained in England from the time of Shake- 
speare to that of Sheridan Knowles, fell into " innocuous 
desuetude." Against the notion that plays are essentially un- 

415 



IP 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

readable, a legacy of that period of England's abject servitude 
to France in the realm of the drama, Shaw has justly and finely 
protested as an author, as a dramatic critic, as a dramatist. 
With Fontenelle and the younger Dumas, he was united in the 
belief that " the spectator can give only success, it is the 
reader who confers renown." He has employed his powers of 
literary expression in all their vigour and vitality to make his 
plays, as published and readable artistic productions, worthy 
of competition with such elaborate fiction as that of Bourget, 
James, or D'Annunzio. Shaw's discouraging experience in the 
effort to have his own plays published brought the subject 
forcibly to his attention. As late as 1896, every publisher who 
was approached with a view to publishing a play, Shaw asserts, 
at once said : " No use : people won't read plays in England." 

Shaw rightly lays the blame for the passing of the printed 
play as a marketable commodity at the doors, not of the pub- 
lisher, but of the playwright, on account of the absurd jargon 
in which stage directions are customarily couched. There is 
a sign-language, a scenic chirography pertaining peculiarly to 
the stage; it is essential, as Mr. Brander Matthews recently 
said, that the playwright who wishes his play to be generally 
read " should translate it out of the special dialect of the stage 
folk into the language of the people." And a number of years 
ago Shaw wrote : " I suggest that it is the fault of the play- / 
wrights who deliberately make their plays unreadable by fling- 
ing repulsive stage technicalities in the face of the public, 
and omitting from their descriptions even that simplest com- 
mon decency of literature, the definite article? I wonder how 
many readers Charles Dickens would have had, or deserved to 
have, if he had written in this manner: 

(Sykes lights pipe — calls dog — loads pistol with newsh 
paper, takes bludgeon from R. above fireplace and strikes 
Nancy.) Nancy: Oh, Lord, Bill! (Dies. Sykes wipes 
brow — shudders — takes hat from chair 0. P. — sees ghost, 
not visible to audience — and exit L. U. E.) " 

In this sort of thing, " literary people trying their hand at the 
drama for the first time revel as ludicrously as amateur actors 

416 



THE TECHNICIAN 

revel in flagrant false hair, misfitting tunics and tin spears." 
The abuse, as Mr. William Archer has pointed out, arose at 
the time when the drama ceased to be regarded as literature. 
Plays designed for " intending performers," amateur and pro- 
fessional, were often printed from the actual prompt-books used 
in the theatre. Even when this was not the case, they were 
closely modelled after the prompt-books. 

Shakespeare and Ibsen, to mention two obvious examples, 
suffer from this very deficiency. " What would we not give," 
asks Shaw, " for the copy of Hamlet used by Shakespeare 
at rehearsal, with the original ' business ' scrawled by the 
prompter's pencil? . . . It is for want of this (realistic) proc- 
ess of elaboration that Shakespeare, unsurpassed as poet, 
story-teller, character draughtsman, humorist and rhetorician, 
has left us no intellectually coherent drama, and could not 
afford to pursue a genuinely scientific method in his studies 
of character and society. ..." The literary product of two 
years of Ibsen's life, exhibiting exhaustive knowledge not only 
of the character of the individuals represented, but also of their 
personal history and antecedents, reads to the actor-manager, 
Shaw declares, exactly like a specification for a gas-fitter! It 
is an " insult " to an exceptionally susceptible, imaginative, 
fastidious person like Shaw. Frankly speaking, Ibsen in this 
respect occupies a position intermediate between Pinero, with 
his dry enumeration, and Shaw, with his breezy loquacity. 
Shaw swings to the furthest extreme, making his stage-direc- 
tions piquant and facetious essays for the edification of the 
^reader — discursive, argumentative, polemical, historical, psy- 
chological, or social essays, varying in length from two lines 
to five pages. With characteristic adroitness, Shaw has de- 
fended one of his own stage-directions which has been rebuked 
as a silly joke. " It runs thus: * So-and-So^s complexion fades 
into stone-gray, and all movement and expression desert his 
eyes.'* This is the sort of stage-direction an actor really wants. 
Of course, he can no more actually change his complexion to 
stone-gray than Mr. Forbes Robertson can actually die after 
saying, * The rest is silence.' But he can produce the impres- 
sion suggested by the direction perfectly. How he produces 

417 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

it is his business, not mine. This distinction is important, be- 
cause, if I wrote such a stage-direction as * turns his back to 
the audience and furtively dabs vaseline on his eyelashes,' in- 
stead of ' his eyes glisten with tears,' I should be guilty of an 
outrage on both actor and reader. Yet we find almost all our 
inexperienced dramatic authors taking the greatest pains to 
commit just such outrages." 

The issue, however, is not to be confused by any such defence, 
however adroit. In fact, in this particular instance Shaw 
makes a valid defence of a stage-direction with which no fault 
can be found save that of literary over-accentuation. Shaw 
has followed one safe rule in his stage-directions : " Writer 
nothing in a play that you would not write in a novel " ; but 
the converse : " Write everything in a play that you would 
in a novel," would be fatal. The great fictionist does not write : 
" A keen pang shot through the mother's heart ; for she saw 
at a glance that her child had not many more chapters to live." 
Similarly the dramatic author should not tell the public that 
" part of the stage is removed to represent the entrance to a 
cellar." Shaw is perfectly correct in saying that " a drama- 
tist's business is to make the reader forget the stage and the/" 
actor forget the audience, not to remind them of both at every 
turn, like an incompetent s extra gentleman ' who turns the 
wrong side of his banner towards the footlights." But Shaw's 
practice of obtruding the refractory lens of his own tempera- 
ment between the reader and the characters of the drama is 
open to very serious objection. The prime incident in the 
history of the production of Candida in both New York and 
Vienna was the animated discussion over the concluding sen- 
tence, which Georg Brandes regarded as wholly superfluous: 
" James and Candida embrace. But they do not know the 
secret in the poet's heart." Shaw was so much amused by the 
futile guesses of the Candida-maniacs that he wrote to Mr. 
James Huneker a Shavian expose of the " secret in the poet's 
heart." A spurious interest was thus tacked on to the play 
on account of Shaw's proposition of a riddle of which he alone 
claimed knowledge of the solution. Again, Shaw goes to the / 
length of explaining dubious and laconic remarks of his char- 

418 



THE TECHNICIAN 

acters, thus, totally destroying the realistic illusion that this 
conversation is actually taking place. The following illustra- 
tion from The Devil's Disciple seems to be a sort of first aid 
to the actor: "Judith smiles, implying 'How stupid of 
me! * . • . " At one point in the trial of Dick Dudgeon, Bur- 
goyne remarks : " By the way, since you are not Mr. Anderson, 

do we still eh, Major Swindon? " [Meaning " do we still 

hang him? "] When the party breaks up at the close of the 
first act of the same play, Shaw pauses to give us the follow- 
ing historical and social reminder : " Mrs. Dudgeon, now an 
intruder in her own home, stands erect, crushed by the weight 
of the law on women. . . . For at this time, remember, Mary 
Wollstonecraft is as yet only a girl of eighteen, and her Vin- 
dication of the Rights of Women is still fourteen years off." 
The vital defect of Shaw's method is epitomized in that single 
word " remember." He might just as well write " Gentle 
Reader " and be done with it. And yet Shaw is not alone in 
this defect; Bahr not infrequently strikes the personal note, 
and some of D'Annunzio's stage directions are little poems in 
themselves — delightful, but not strictly artistic. Shaw has 
done genuine service to the modern English drama by his con- 
scientious effort to make his plays readable, to write not mere 
drama, but genuine literature. Through his long training as 
dramatic critic, he learned to effect the complete visualization 
of the painted sets of the stage, thus preserving intact, in that 
respect, the illusion of reality. He has replaced the old stocks 
and stones of French's Acting Edition by personal and scenic 
descriptions, imaginatively, vividly, humorously — in a word, 
artistically — rendered. But he has not avoided the intrusion 
of the personality of the dramatist; he has imported into the 
English drama that pleasant vice of English fiction: imperfect 
objectivity. Mr. Archer states the plain common-sense of the 
matter when he says that stage-directions should be clear, ade- 
quate, and helpful, but that they should always be impersonal.* 
With all Shaw's praiseworthy efforts to create the realistic illu- 

* Cf. Shaw on Stage Directions, by William Archer, in the Daily News, 
December 28th, 1901. 

419 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 



/ 



sion of life by making us forget that his characters are only 
fictions of the stage, he occasionally destroys that illusion by 
making us remember that they are only the puppets of Bernard 
Shaw. 

However original and iconoclastic Shaw may be in respect 
to interpretative prefaces and artistically cast stage-directions, 
in the matter of dramatic construction and technique he has 
been notably rigorous, rather than careless, in his attempt at 
realistic representation. In minor matters of punctuation, it 
is true, he has freely gratified his own preferences and likings — 
using spaced letters for emphasis, omitting commas and apos- 
trophes whenever no doubt as to the sense is involved, avoiding 
quotation marks for titles and, indeed, in Biblical fashion, dis- 
pensing with punctuation on every possible occasion. All these 
things are merely matters of taste. But the conventional 
technique of the drama, the customs, tricks and devices of 
stage-craft, he ordinarily accepts without question. In Wid- 
owers 9 Houses in its first form, he made the explicit division 
into scenes ; since that time, he has made each of his plays, as 
far as scenes go, a continuous whole, unbroken save only by 
division into acts, and by a succession of asterisks where a 
lapse of time is to be understood. In this respect, he 
has carefully preserved his rule of writing down nothing that 
might remind the reader of an actual stage or a theatric 
representation.* 

The incidents, plot, construction and technical details of 
drama Bernard Shaw manipulates for his own purposes, giv- 
ing them novelty, piquancy, and charm by the essentially mod- 
ern use he makes of them. As for indebtedness to Ibsen for 
his technique, he vigorously scorns the idea. " It is quite the 
customary thing to say, nowadays," Mr. Shaw once remarked 
to me, " that Ibsen revolutionized the technique of English 
drama. I cannot, for the life of me, find the least evidence 
of such a thing. The objective side of Ibsen's technique is a 
part of the common stock of modern dramatic realism. The 
symbolic side of Ibsen's technique is incommunicable — peculiar 

* In Herr Siegfried Trebitsch's translations of Shaw's plays into Ger- 
man is found the explicit division into scenes. 

420 



THE TECHNICIAN 

to Ibsen alone. The technique of such a play as John Gabriel 
Borkman, for example, is inextricably bound up with the dra- 
matic genius which devised it." Shaw asserts that his own 
^•'plays have all the latest mechanical improvements. In his 
plays there are no " asides," no impossible soliloquies, no long- u " 
winded recitals in the second act of what has taken place in 
the first, no senseless multiplication of doors and windows, no 
incessant stream of letters and telegrams. Shaw revolted 
against many of the technical practices of Ibsen. " Go back 
to Lady Inger," he recently wrote, " and you will be tempted 
to believe that Ibsen was deliberately burlesquing the absurdi- 
ties of Richardson's booth; for the action is carried on mostly 
in impossible asides." And he said to me, in discussing the use 
of the soliloquy, " I do not in the least object to the soliloquy 
provided it does not exceed the time-limit a rational man might ^ 
be supposed to observe in talking aloud. But if there is any- 
thing that drives me wild, it is to hear Brown come down to 
the footlights, and begin : ' I wonder where Jones can be ! He 
promised to meet me here at half-past four. Can it be possible 
that he is still suffering from remorse for the murder of his 
father-in-law? etc., etc. 5 Deliver me from the soliloquy used 
solely as a first aid to ignorant audiences." In his Saturday 
Review period, Shaw insisted that, " What most of our critics 
mean by mastery of stage-craft is recklessness in the substitu- 
tion of dead machinery and lay figures for vital action and real 
characters." And in his notable essay on Ibsen, in 1906, he 
clearly sets forth his dramatic ideal. 

" What we might have learned from Ibsen was that our 
fashionable dramatic material was worn out as far as 
cultivated modern people are concerned, that what really 
interests such people on the stage is not what we call 
action — meaning two well-known and rather short-sighted 
actors pretending to fight a duel without their glasses, or 
a handsome leading man chasing a beauteous leading lady 
round the stage with threats, obviously not feasible, of 
immediate rapine — but stories of lives, discussion of con- 
duct, unveiling of motives, conflict of characters in talk, 

421 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

laying bare of souls, discovery of pitfalls — in short, illu- 
mination of life. . . . " * 

" All this talk about the dramatist proceeding according to 
rule and only making a coherent story which begins at the 
V beginning of the play," Mr. Shaw remarked to me one day, 
" is the most mistaken and harmful notion in the world. A 
dramatist finds himself in the grip of a situation or a complex 
of character of which he must make the most and the best that 
he can. Take Ibsen, for example. Not infrequently he finds 
himself compelled, for the sake of giving coherence and va- 
lidity to his characters, to introduce a long recital by some 
character, without which the play would lack a vital part of 
the dramatic structure. Not that I defend such technique. I 
instance it merely to show that even a craftsman like Ibsen is 
driven occasionally to such expedients." 

" It seems to me," I remarked, " that, whereas some of your 
plays are notable for their first acts — The Philanderer and 
Arms and the Man, for instance — because you seem to be con- 
cerned chiefly with exposition of the plot and not with brilliant 
Shavian divagations, in certain others you wholly concern 
yourself in the first act with the careful setting-up of a com- 
plex milieu, the elaboration of an environment out of which 
the principal character emerges. In certain other plays, the 
method is somewhat the same, but the purpose and the result 
quite different. The first act of The Devil's Disciple, for in- 
stance, is like a picture of Hogarth. By minutely delineated 
portrayal of Dick's home, his training and environment — all 
the influences and surroundings of his youth, you explain and 
thus justify his revolt. The first act isn't a part of the plot — 
it is, however, an indispensable phase of the situation. From 
the first act there emerges one remarkable character, Dick 
Dudgeon; this act makes him comprehensible — that is its fun- 
damental purpose. But in The Doctor's Dilemma the case is 
quite different; the hour-long first act is vital only in the sense 
of acquainting us with the single fact that, to turn a patient 

* Ibsen, by G. Bernard Shaw, in the Clarion, June 1st, 1906. Also pub- 
lished in Die New Rundschau, December, 1906. 

422 



THE TECHNICIAN 

over to Bloomfield-Bonington for treatment is to commit 
murder." 

" Yes, you are quite right about The Demi's Disciple," re- 
plied Mr. Shaw. " You have stated precisely the significance 
of that first act. Unquestionably, the drama is the art of 
preparation and this method is as legitimate a means of prepa- 
ration as many others, and certainly much more effective. 
There is no reason in the world why the drama should be 
debarred as a medium for the painting of genre pictures." 

" As for the first act of The Doctor's Dilemma," he con- 
tinued, " it is true, as you say, that the story really doesn't 
begin until nearly the end of the long first act. But you must 
^-remember that the hero of my play is no one single character, 
but modern medical science. You see, I have been absolutely 
modern in my treatment of medicine, and I have devoted this 
first act to a complete exposition of the present state of mod- 
ern medicine." 

" The real truth of the matter," he went on to explain, 
greatly interested in his subject, " is that in my first acts 
I have often put many things I can't afford to waste my time 
with later on. When an audience first enters a theatre, it 
comes absolutely fresh and is prepared to stand a great deal 
from the dramatic author — a great deal which is not, strictly 
speaking, germane to the carrying-on of the plot of the 
* story ' — provided it is cast in a sufficiently entertaining and 
diverting form. The average audience is so accustomed to the 
conventional, wearisome piling up of one detail upon another 
— mere mechanical exposition until the middle of the second 
act — that my method, by which I furnish forth a complete 
social and psychological milieu in as entertaining a fashion as 
I can, is quite a relief." 

One may say in general that, not without reason does Shaw 
claim to have cast his plays always in the ordinary practical 
comedy form in use at all the theatres. There are, however, 
two marked features in which his dramas, as tone pictures and 
as realistic transcripts of life, are strikingly unique and dis- 
tinctive. In the first place, Shaw runs counter to the conven- 
tional standpoint of the emotion-racked critic by refusing to 

423 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

preserve the medium in which plays are customarily cast. 
Most of his plays deserve a twin appellation: tragi-comedy, 
farce-comedy, burlesque-extravaganza, and the like. In some 
of them the key is transposed so frequently as to defy brief 
classification. Shaw is intent upon opening our eyes to points 
of view, not accidentally variant, but purposely divergent from 
the conventional form. He scorns the attitude of the romance- 
riddled melodramatist, and is utterly impatient of the Fitch 
mood or the Belasco sentimentalism. If you have tears, Mr. 
Fitch seems to say, prepare to shed them now. Holding the 
blunderbuss of sentimentality and emotionalism to our heads, 
Mr. Belasco bids us stand and deliver. In Shaw's hands, the 
play is now comedy, now tragedy, now audacious satire — 
everything by turns and nothing long. Once catch the distinc- 
tion between the vital spirit of Shaw and the demoralizing rant 
of the sentimentalists, and you have gained an insight into 
Shaw's philosophy of will that clarifies and illumines the mo- 
tive and purpose of those creations of his that are customarily 
classed as eccentrics, perverts, madmen, bounders, or cads.* 

We must, however, take account not only of the virtues, but 

also of the defects of Shaw's qualities. His ability to play the 

roles of the acrobat, the trapeze-performer, the clown, even 

•-the stern ringmaster, has occasionally seduced him from the 

strait and narrow path of true drama. The statement that 

*" About the plays of Shaw," writes Hermann Bahr, "we are never 
quite sure in what category they belong, whether they are farces, comedies, 
or plays: for they summon death and the devil, threaten the hero's life 
and happiness, and, in the midst of the greatest danger, indulge in such 
audacious wit that we are not always sure whether to shudder or to laugh. 
By degrees, however, it dawns upon us that this has happened to us once 
/ before, namely, in life itself, which so intermingles hope and despair, the 
previsions of destiny and the absurdities of chance, necessity and free will, 
law and whim, favour and spite, that it is peculiarly the experience of our 
time to question whether our existence be tragic, against which view our 
daily life warns us; or a senseless jest, to which our pride will never submit; 
or a pleasant, disturbed dream, which, again, is too weighty, too terrible 
a burden for our consciousness. This very uncertainty in the elements of 
our primitive feelings, Shaw expresses with a mad, malicious joy. Indeed, 
one might say, first and foremost, that Shaw is the poet of our uncertainty." 
Rezensionen. Wiener Theater, 1901-3, by Hermann Bahr: article, Bernard 
Shaw. 

424 



THE TECHNICIAN 

Shaw's serious plays are exceedingly good pastiches of Ibsen 
is perhaps an exaggeration of Mr. Max Beerbohm in his role 
of licensed jester. In reality there is no doubt that the strict 
compression demanded by the Ibsenic form gave Shaw no 
legitimate opportunity for the free play of his irresponsible hu- 
mour. His appearance as jester was often a manifest intru- 
sion. Mrs. Warren' s Profession just missed being a master- 
piece because Shaw was incapable of artistic self-sacrifice. 
The occasional lapse from tragic seriousness to a tone of 
almost revolting levity robbed the play of its dignity as a 
tragedy. Mr. Archer was severely shocked by Mrs. Warren's 
Profession when he saw it on the stage; in the study he had 
called it " a masterpiece — yes, with all reservations, a master- 
piece." Mr. Grein, who wished to produce the play in the 
Independent Theatre series, sternly renounced Shaw after see- 
ing it played by the Stage Society. It is clear, then, why such 
plays as Arms and the Man and You Never Can Tell are genu- 
ine successes, theatric as well as dramatic. They are least 
disturbed by rapid transitions, their large and loose comedic 
form giving considerable room for Shaw's kaleidoscopic ^ 
changes. Shaw's farce-comedies are the natural and spon- 
taneous expressions of Shaw's peculiar comedic talent, the 
sports of his own humorous imagination. Shaw's composi- 
tions are chameleons which are always most interesting and 
attractive when they take the changing colours of his own 
temperament. 

In any classification according to form, Shaw's plays are 
very difficult to catalogue. We have seen in the first place that 
Shaw purposely runs counter to the conventional standpoint 
of the dramatic critic. In Widowers 9 Houses he jilts the ideal 
heroine; in The Philanderer he blasts the womanly woman; in * 
Arms and the Man he knocks the romantic notion of war, and 
of the stage, so to speak, into a cocked hat. In You Never 
Can Tell he tilts against the Old Man and the New Woman; 
in The Devil's Disciple he reduces the melodramatic formula to 
absurdity; in John Bull's Other Island he explodes that out- 
worn fiction, the stage Irishman ; in Major Barbara he exposes 
the evils of charity; in The Doctor's Dilemma medical quack- 

425 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ery is the target for his ridicule. All this he does in the most 
v fantastic and variable forms — farce, melodrama, burlesque, ex- 
travaganza, comedy, allegory — any one, but usually a diverting 
combination and succession of these forms. In fact, he has 
almost succeeded in inventing a new form of drama. This 
second characteristic of Shaw's plays, as Professor Hale has 
remarked, is almost a note of Shaw's dramaturgy.* His plays . 
are frequently fantastic criticisms of life, cast in the mosr 
photographically realistic form. Ir*> the guise of severely 
natural transcripts of life, many of his plays, at bottom, are 
critical judgments of humanity on a satiric plane of pure 
fantasy. If neo-realism is " merely the presentation of the 
ultimate facts of life in any way you like," then Bernard Shaw 
is the high-priest of neo-realism. In him we discern the mar- 
vellous versatility of the modern critic, capable of making him- 
self at home in any nationality and in any age. But whether 
he is giving us an Offenbachian Egypt, a comic-opera Bulgaria, 
a melodramatic America, or an imaginary Morocco, the result 
is the same: a portrayal of human nature, a criticism of life, 
penetrating, engaging, true. As Dr. Max Meyerfeld, the Ger- 
man champion of Wilde, has tersely put it, Bernard Shaw pos- 
sesses the supreme faculty of the critic : " in fremden Seelenge- 
Muse hineinzuschlupfen." 

Shaw spent nearly four years of his life continuously in 
V saying to British dramatists, " That's not the way to do it." 
He has spent a considerable part of his life in the last eighteen 
years in saying to the world, by concrete and constructive 
achievement, " This is the way to do it." Bernard Shaw is 
to be reckoned as one of the most suggestive and certainly 
the most brilliant of all the critics of the modern British stage, 
understanding the word critic in its broadest sense. His prime * 
distinction consists not only in the cleverness of his critical 
attacks upon the stage, past and present, but also in the 
notable effort he has made, by actually writing plays, to ele- 
vate its plane. Every phase of his activities as dramatic critic 
and dramatic author has been vital with the force of powerful 

* Dramatists of To-Day, by E. E. Hale, Jr.: article, Bernard Shaw. 

426 



' u THE TECHNICIAN 

originality. His feuilletons in the Saturday Review easily won 
him the title of the most brilliant of contemporary British 
journalistic critics. If he did not set a precedent, he almost 
rediscovered a lost art in writing those masterpieces of ego- 
tistical, combative, polemical, controversial criticism, the pref- 
aces, appendices and epilogues to his plays. A genuine con- 
tribution to dramaturgy is his innovation of ample stage- 
directions so-called: penetrating character sketches of places 
as well as people, revelative hints to the actor, brief clarifying 
essays to elucidate each dramatic situation. His effort to 
make plays readable, to write literature instead of specifica- 
tions, is worthy of emulation, and eventually his method, in 
certain modified forms, will doubtless be generally adopted. 
His practice of casting fantastic situations in rigidly realistic 
form strikes quite a novel note in dramaturgy despite Shaw's 
oft-repeated assertion that, after all, he is a very old-fashioned 
playwright. 



427 



THE DRAMATIST 

"The function of comedy is nothing less than the destruction of old- 
established morals." — Meredith on Comedy, by G. B. Shaw, in the Saturday 
Review, March 27th, 1897. 



CHAPTER XIV 

THERE can be no new drama, as Mr. Stuart-Glennie has 
pointed out, without a new philosophy. Drama can never 
be the same again since Ibsen has lived. The drama of the 
future, in Shaw's view, can never be anything more than the 
play of ideas. 

Whether as yet accurately formulated in standard works of 
dramatic criticism or not, the fact remains that a clear and 
demarcative line of division runs across the drama of to-day. 
On one side of this line falls that vast majority of plays — 
serious drama, comedy, melodrama, farce — which accord more 
or less rigidly with the established canons and authorita- 
tive traditions of dramatic art. On the other side falls the 
persistently crescent minority of plays which break away from 
the old conventions and set up new precedents for formulation 
by the Freytag of the future. In the first class are found 
those works of art which are founded upon emotion, live solely 
in and for the dramatic moment, and treat of the universal 
themes of time and age, character and destiny, life and death. 
They receive their impulse from eternal and enduring, rather 
than from topical or transitory, aspects of human life; and 
draw their inspiration as much — if not more — from the lit- 
erature of the past as from the human pageant of the present. 
In the second class are found those works which start into 
life through the quickening touch of the contemporary, which 
seek an interpretation of society through the illuminative, 
transmutative intermediaries of all that is newest, most vitally 
fecund, most prophetic in the science, sociology, art and reli- 
gion of to-day; and which endeavour, through faithful por- 
traiture of the present, to detect and reveal the traits and 
qualities of human nature in its permanent and immutable as- 
pects. The authors of such works find their themes chiefly 

431 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

in the crucial instances of to-day, the conflict of humanity 
with current institutions, of human wills with existent circum- 
stances, and they have for their end a humanitarian ideal: 
the exposure of civic abuse, the redress of social wrong, and 
the regeneration, redemption and reform of society — not less 
than artistic fidelity to fact, satiric unmasking of human folly, 
and veritistic embodiment of human passion. To the one class 
belong Shakespeare, Calderon, Schiller, Rostand; to the other, 
Charles Reade, Ibsen, Gorki, Brieux. It is a fundamental 
characteristic of Bernard Shaw that he belongs to the second 
class — in this respect he is sealed of the tribe of Rousseau, 
Dumas fils, Zola and Tolstoy. 

Through the powerful social thrust of modern art there has 
forged to the front a new and disquieting force. As an iso- 
lated phenomenon, this has occasionally made its appearance 
in the past; but as a distinct genus it may justly be regarded 
as a creation of the new social order. To scoff at, rather than 
to study, to dismiss cavalierly rather than to examine con- 
scientiously, this new force, were as short-sighted and senseless 
as to deny its existence. We are in duty bound to consider 
and to weigh, carefully and critically, the claims of this 
" dramatist of the future " as opposed to the classic virtues 
of the dramatist working frankly in the manner of tradition. 
The dramatist who conforms to popular and critical standards 
is an artist facile in revealing either character in action or 
action in character, invariable in interpreting life from the 
side of the emotions, and resolute in imaging drama as a true 
conflict of wills — in a word, the artist gifted with what the 
French so aptly term la doigte du dramaturge. He recognizes 
the drama as the most impersonal of the arts, and sedulously 
devotes himself to the realization of Victor Hugo's dictum that 
dramatic art consists in being somebody else. On the other 
hand, the new type of dramatist — the dramatist of the future, 
if you will — is no less an artist than the other ; his primal dis- 
tinction is his demand for that large independence of rules 
and systems which Turgenev posited as the indispensable 
requisite of great art. Just as Zola enlarged the conception 
of the function of the novel, sublimating it into a powerful and 



THE DRAMATIST 

far-reaching instrument for social and moral propagandism, 
so this new dramaturgic iconoclast demands the stage as an 
instrumentality for the exposition, diffusion, and wide dissemi- 
nation of his views and theories — upon standards of morality, 
rules of conduct, codes of ethics, and philosophies of life. 
With him there is no question of importing the methods of the 
Blue Book into the drama; nor would he, in any broad sense, 
idly shirk what Walter Pater terms the responsibility of the 
artist to his material. He accepts the natural limitations, 
not the mechanical restrictions, of his art; he does not seek to 
appropriate the privileges, while refusing to shoulder the re- 
sponsibilities, of his medium. His distinction arises from the 
discovery of the hackneyed, but ever alarming and heretical 
truth, that life is greater than art. For art's sake alone he 
refuses to exist, with strange perversity insisting that he lives 
not for the sake of art, but for the sake of humanity. 

In reply to the question : " Should social problems be freely 
dealt with in the drama? " Shaw characteristically said: " Sup- 
pose I say yes, then, vaccination being a social question, and 
the Wagnerian music drama being the one complete form of 
drama in the opinion of its admirers, it will follow that I am in 
favour of the production of a Jennerian tetralogy at Bayreuth. 
If I say no, then, marriage being a social question, and also 
the theme of Ibsen's A DolVs House, I shall be held to condemn 
that work as a violation of the canons of art." As a matter 
of fact, Shaw believes that every social question furnishes mate- 
rial for drama — the conflict of human feeling with circum- 
stances — since institutions are themselves circumstances. On 
the other hand, every drama by no means involves a social 
question, since human feeling may be in conflict with circum- 
stances which are not institutions. The limitation of drama 
with a social question for motive is that, ordinarily, it cannot 
outlive the solution of that question. It is true that some 
of the best and most popular plays are dramatized sermons, 
pamphlets, satires, or Blue Books: Gilbert's Trial by Jury, a 
satire on breach of promise; Sheridan's School for Scandal, a 
dramatic sermon; Reade's Never Too Late to Mend, a dra- 
matic pamphlet ; and so on. The greatest dramatists, however, 



J 



1 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

abjure political and social themes, rooting their dramas in the 
firm soil of human nature and elemental feeling. The reason 
for this is that, as a rule, social questions are too temporal, 
too transient to move the great poet to the mightiest efforts 
of his imagination. Shaw maintains that the general prefer- 
ence of dramatists for subjects in which the conflict is between 
man and his apparently inevitable and eternal, rather than his 
political and temporal, circumstances, is due in the vast ma- 
jority of cases to the dramatist's political ignorance, and in a 
few — Goethe and Wagner, for example — to the comprehensive- 
ness of their philosophy. 

/The era of the drama of pure feeling, in Shaw's opinion, is 
now past. Every great social question, owing to the huge size 
of modern populations and the development of the Press, takes 
on the character of a world-problem. Les Miserables is the 
pure product of our epoch; Zola is the colossal champion of 
social justice and social reform, Ibsen the arch-enemy of social, 
as well as moral, abuse. William Morris left house decoration 
for propagandism ; Ruskin resigned Modem Painters for mod- 
ern pamphleteering; Carlyle began by studying German cul- 
ture and ended with railing against English social crime. The 
poets are following Shelley as political and social agitators, 
the drama is becoming an arena for discussion, because the 
machinery of government is becoming so criminally tardy in 
its settlement of the perpetually increasing number of social 
questions : the poet must put his shoulder to the wheel. " The 
hugeness and complexity of modern civilizations and the de- 
velopment of our consciousness of them by means of the Press," 
Mr. Shaw maintains, " have the double effect of discrediting 
comprehensive philosophies by revealing more facts than the 
ablest man can generalize, and at the same time intensifying 
the urgency of social reforms sufficiently to set even the poetic 
faculty in action on their behalf. The resultant tendency to 
drive social questions on to the stage, and into fiction and 
poetry, will eventually be counteracted by improvements in 
social organization which will enable all prosaic social ques- 
tions to be dealt with satisfactorily long before they become 

434 



THE DRAMATIST 

grave enough to absorb the energies which claim the devotion 
of the dramatist, the story-teller, and the poet." * 
/Shaw has placed on record his belief that subjects such as 
age, love, death, accident, personality, abnormal greatness of 
character, abnormal baseness of character give drama a per- 
manent and universal interest independent of period and place, 
and will keep a language alive long after it has passed out of 
/common use. It is not the drama of profound and elemental 
human feeling against which Shaw rails, but the drama de- ^ 
signed solely for the obsession of the senses. His most vehe- 
ment attack is directed against plays pleasurably appealing 
to animal passions and sensual appetites. To Bernard Shaw, ^ 
as Benjamin de Casseres has indelicately expressed it, romantic 
love is lust dressed in Sunday clothesr The voluptuous appeal , 
of the romantic drama is utterly abhorrent to him. The flaccid^ 
sentimentalities, the diluted sensualities of the modern plays 
which he dubs aphrodisiacs, totally fail to impose on him. Sit- 
ting at such plays, he says, we do not believe : we make believe. 
His own plays, he has spared no pains to tell us, are built " to 
induce, not voluptuous reverie, but intellectual interest, not 
romantic rhapsody but humane concern. . . . The drama of 
pure feeling is no longer in the hands of the playwright; it 
has been conquered by the musician, after whose enchantments 
all the verbal arts seem cold and tame. . . . The attempt to 
produce a genus of opera without music — and this absurdity is 
what our fashionable theatres have been driving at for a long 
time past without knowing it — is far less hopeful than my own 
determination to accept problem as the normal material of the 
drama." t 

Cervantes abolished chivalry; let us have done with it, is 
Shaw's insistent clamour. Romance died with Schopenhauer; 
let sentiment expire with Shaw. " The thing that Mr. Shaw 
calls romance," says Mr. Gilbert Chesterton, " is simply the 
fullness of life, the boiling over of the pot of existence. Things 

* The Problem Play: A Symposium (V.), by G. Bernard Shaw, in the 
Humanitarian, May, 1895. 

t The Author's Apology, Preface to the Stage Society's edition of Mrs. 
Warren's Profession, p. xxii. 

485 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

are so good in general that men have, in order to keep pace 
with the great cataract of beneficence, to call them good in 
particular. This great and ancient tide of exultation, which 
makes the tree green, the sunset splendid, the woman beautiful, 
the flag a thing to be saved at any cost, is, of course, a fact 
as square and solid as a beefsteak or St. Paul's Cathedral. 
. . . But Mr. Bernard Shaw has, for all practical purposes, 
denied the existence of this elemental tendency, and it is not, 
therefore, strange that he finds the world a moon-struck and 
half-witted place." * In his plays, indeed, Shaw does not 
sound these deep and eternal notes of the human symphony. 
He has fallen into the curious error of confounding contempt 
for romance with denial of its existence. It is all very well 
to deplore the eternal idealization of the sexual instinct; it is 
a totally different matter to represent life as devoid of the 
ecstasies and raptures of lovers, the pangs of despised love, 
the tyranny of romantic passion. 

/ Temperamentally and philosophically, Shaw is the very 
antithesis of the romantic. He has consistently sought to 
reveal and exalt the creative forces in life and art ; to awaken 
the individual to alerter consciousness and to sharpen his pref- 
erence for actuality over illusion, for reality over appearance. 
To that romance which seeks to mask the facts of life with 
the roseate mists of sentiment, the golden halo of illusion, Shaw 
has proved an inveterate foe. Upon Nordau in his philistine 
and romantic struggle to uphold a hypothetical standard of 
normality and to pollute those clear streams of creative en- 
ergy in art to which we owe the masterpieces of our epoch — 
upon Nordau Shaw retorted with such splendid force and 
energy that no one who realizes the issues involved can with- 
hold his gratitude for that triumphant service to the creative 
spirit of art and of humanity. 

One of Bernard Shaw's fundamental claims to attention con- 
sists in his effort toward the destruction, not only of romance, 
but of all the false ideals and illusions which obsess the soul 
of man. He has assumed the function of tearing the mask of 

* The Meaning of Mr. Bernard Shaw, by G. K. Chesterton, in the Daily 
News, October 30th, 1901. 

436 




From a photo by Histed <£• Co.] [42, Baker Street, W. 

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW. 



{Facing p. 430 



THE DRAMATIST 

idealism from the face of fact. And yet it is a mark of his 
catholicity of view, that in his attack upon illusions he is 
neither so blind nor so narrow as not to realize their far- 
reaching and oftentimes beneficent effect. Thus he says: 

" Suppress that phase of human activity which consists 
in the pursuit of illusions, and you suppress the greatest 
force in the world. Do not suppose that the pursuit of 
illusions is a vain pursuit: on the contrary, an illusion 
can no more exist without reality than a shadow without 
an object. Unfortunately the majority of men are so 
constituted that reality repels, while illusions attract 
them." 

With acute psychologic insight, Shaw draws the distinction 
)etween two classes of illusions: those which flatter and those 
^hich are indispensable. By flattering illusions he understands 
those which encourage us to make efforts to attain things which 
we do not know how to appreciate in their simple reality ; either 
they reconcile us to our lot, or else to actions we are obliged to 
take contrary to the dictates of conscience. These are, 
indeed, deplorable consequences in the eyes of the humanitarian 
meliorist who believes that to be reconciled to one's lot is the 
worst fate that can befall mankind, and who once said that 
the one real tragedy in life is the being used by personally- 
minded men for purposes which you yourself recognize to be 
base. 

The metier of Bernard Shaw is the destruction, not of the 
indispensable illusions which support the social structure and 
ultimately make for the uplift of humanity, but of those treach- 
erously flattering illusions which ensnare men in the toils of an 
existence for which they have not the requisite passion, cour- , 
age, faith, endurance and self-restraint. " In my plays," Shaw^ 
wrote in the Vienna Zeit, " you will not be teased and plagued 
with happiness, goodness and virtue, or with crime and ro- 
mance, or, indeed, with any senseless thing of that sort. My 
plays have only one subject: life; and only one attribute: in- 

437 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

teres t in life." * It is a mistake of the German dramatic critic, 
Heinrich Stumcke, to aver that the quintessence of Shaw is 
nil admirari. It would be far nearer the truth to say that he 
wonders at everything in this demented, moon-struck world. 
The law of contrasts is the motif of his art. He is never so 
brilliant as in the portrayal of opposites. 

With the transcendent egotism of the genius, he unhesitat- 
ingly claims to see more clearly than humanity at large, to 
have ever fought illusion, denied the ideal, and scorned to call 
things by other than their real names. f Thus we see him al- 
ways in search of what Walter Pater was fond of calling la 
vraie verite, challenging the old formulas with the new ideas, 
transvaluing moral values with Nietzschean fervour, and bid- 
ding humanity stand from behind its artificial barriers of 
custom, law, religion and morality, and dare to speak and live 
the truth. In his capacity of realistic critic of contemporary 
civilization, he is neither surprised nor confounded to en- 
counter scepticism on all hands. Indeed, he is wise enough 
to expect it, since he has observed that, when reality at last 
presents itself to men nourished on dramatic illusions, they 
have lost the power to recognize it. 

Bernard Shaw, as Alfred Kerr has put it, is a distinct 

* ethical gain for our generation. His prime characteristic as 

a propagandist — and his deficiency as a dramatist — is found 

* Prospectus of the Schiller-Theater, Berlin. Vornehmlich iiber rnich 
selbst, von Bernard Shaw. This " Plauderei " appeared in the Vienna Zeit 
in February, 1903, shortly before the production of Teufelskerl (The 
Devil's Disciple) in Vienna. 

•j- The celebrated account Shaw once gave of his visit to an ophthalmic 
surgeon clearly sets before us his conception of the nature and value of his 
critical faculty: " He tested my eyesight one evening, and informed me that 
it was quite uninteresting to him because it was * normal.' I naturally 
took this to mean that it was like everybody else's; but he rejected this 
construction as paradoxical, and hastened to explain to me that I was an 
exceptional and highly fortunate person optically, * normal ' sight con- 
ferring the power of seeing things accurately, and being enjoyed by only 
about ten per cent, of the population, the remaining ninety per cent, being 
abnormal. I immediately perceived the explanation of my want of success 
in fiction. My mind's eye, like my body's, was * normal ' ; it saw things 
differently from other people's eyes, and saw them better." — Mainly About 
Myself, Preface to Plays, Pleasant and Unpleasant, Vol. I., p. 11. 

. 438 



GENEALOGICAL CHART OF THE SHAW FAMILY 

of Counties Tipper/ry, Kilkenny and Dublin, together with other Lineal Ancestors of 
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW. 



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THE DRAMATIST 

in his assertion that the quintessential function of comedy is 
the destruction of old-established morals. Hence it is that his 
plays are conceived in a militant spirit — in the Molieresque 
key of Les Precieuses Ridicules, or the Ibsenic key of An 
Enemy of the People. His drama may roughly be defined as^' 
the conflict of the Shavian Ausschauung with conventional 
dogma. Like Brieux, he has ingeniously employed the drama . 
as a means of giving lectures. He frankly confesses that his 
object is to make people uncomfortable, to make them thor- 
oughly ashamed of themselves. " Moliere and I are much 
alike," he once remarked to me ; " we both attack pedantry." * ^ 
Shaw does not wish to drain the drama of all feeling; he merely 
wishes to make feeling subsidiary to logic. He regards the 
portrayal of emotion, not as an end in itself, but as an in- 
centive to thought. " You cannot witness A DolVs House 
without feeling " he once said, " and, as an inevitable conse- 
quence, thinking." He wishes to set up, in the minds of his 
audience, a train of reflections and meditations which may 
alter their own lives, which may influence the whole world. For, 
as Emerson says, " To think is to act." Shaw's object is to 
create a true drama of ideas, having for its normal material 
" problem, with its remorseless logic and iron framework of 
fact." He would have intellect predominate over sentiment; 
will engineered by idea, and not unreasoning passion, the con- 
trolling factor. Bernard Shaw is frequently charged with he-*' 
ing devoid of feeling. Shaw is less influenced by or concerned 
with mere personal feeling than anyone I have ever known; 
but his whole being is vibrant with passion for the welfare of 
society. If social pity is the underlying motive of the later 
Russian novelists, social indignation seems to be the guiding 
principle of Bernard Shaw. To him, social thought has be- 
come a genuine passion. 

The quintessence of the Shavian drama is the Shavian phi- 

* At various times, in essays published in Europe and in America, I have 
called attention to the resemblance between Shaw and Moliere, dubbing 
Shaw the Moliere of our time. Recently, M. Auguste Hamon has made a 
detailed comparison of the two comic dramatists in the Nineteenth Century 
and After: Un Nouvecm Molikre, July, 1908. 

439 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

losophy. Shaw's theatre may be defined as an effort to depict 
naked instincts upon the stage; this is the meaning of his 
" scientific natural history." He has sought to project in- 
stinctive temperaments, alive and potent, before our very eyes. 
The inspiring words of Zola at the funeral of Edmond de 
Goncourt might well have served as the motto for his principal 
figures : " Ah ! to have intellectual courage ! To tell the truth 
and the whole truth, even if it cost one peace and friends; 
never to consider any convention, to go to the end of one's 
thought, careless of consequence. Nothing is rarer, nothing is 
finer, nothing is grander." Unhampered by such scrupulous- 
ness as that of Mark Twain, who declared that it was im- 
modest to tell the naked truth in the presence of ladies, Shaw's i/ 
leading characters are ever in quest of truth and freedom. 
They seek truth in unflinching recognition of facts, freedom 
in emancipation from slavery to the false idealism of romantic 
convention. They are libertines, in the original and not the 
perverted sense of the word, with judgment unbiassed by tra- 
ditional influence or contemporary prejudice. They are 
natural, not so much in the sense of being perfect replicas of 
contemporary men and women — for they are often little more 
than personified aspects of Shavianism — as in the sense of 
being in a state of nature in regard to whim, eccentricity, 
fancy, impulse, passion. There is a sort of complex and ad- 
vanced juvenility about Shaw's characters; they are the enfants 
gates of modern drama. In them are concretely delineated the 
outlines of the Shavian philosophy : " Duty is the thing one 
should never do," " Virtue consists, not in abstaining from 
vice, but in not desiring it," " Sentimentality is the error of 
supposing that quarter can be given or taken in moral con- 
flicts." The difference between moral and right, for these 
Shavians, is the difference between doing what you ought to 
do and what you want to do. Shakespeare's " To thine own 
self be true " is insufficient ; the modern sociologist knows that 
it is imperative to realize, not only what you are, but where 
you are. After studying the possibilities, not the restrictions, 
of their environment, the Shavian characters go straight ahead 

440 



THE DRAMATIST 

and do what they choose. Shaw outranks Ibsen himself in the 
individualistic injunction " Live your own life." 

In his own admirable way, Shaw has given us a succinct 
exposition of his conception of the Shavian drama. Asked 
if he wrote plays to make fun of people, Shaw replied, more in 
sorrow than in anger: 

" People talk all this nonsense about my plays because 
they have been to the theatre so much that they have lost 
their sense of the unreality and insincerity of the roman- 
tic drama. They take stage human nature for real hu- 
man nature, whereas, of course, (real human nature is the 
bitterest satire on stage human nature) The result is that 
when I try to put real human nature on the stage they 
think that I am laughing at them. They flatter them- 
selves enormously, for I am not thinking of them at all. 
I am simply writing natural history very carefully and 
laboriously; and they are expecting something else. I 
can imagine a Japanese who had ordered a family portrait 
of himself, and expected it to be in the Japanese convention 
as to design, being exceedingly annoyed if the artist 
handed him a photograph, however artistic, because it 
was like him in a natural way. He would accuse the 
photographer of making fun of him and of having his 
tongue in his cheek. 

" But there is a deeper reason for this attitude of mind. 
People imagine that actions and feelings are dictated by 
moral systems, by religious systems, by codes of honour 
and conventions of conduct which lie outside the real 
human will. Now it is a part of my gift as a dramatist 
that I know that these conventions do not supply them 
with their motives. They make very plausible ex post 
facto excuses for their conduct; but the real motives are 
deep down in the will itself. 

"And so an infinite comedy arises in everyday life 
from the contrast between the real motives and the alleged 
artificial motives; and when the dramatist refuses to be 
imposed upon, and forces his audience to laugh at the 

441 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

imposture, there is always a desperate effort to cover 
up the scandal and save the face of the conventional by 
the new convention that whoever refuses to play the con- 
ventional game is a cynic and a satirist, a farceur, a per- 
son whom no one takes seriously." * 

The supreme difficulty in any criticism of Bernard Shaw as 
dramatist is to draw the many fine distinctions between his 
critical expositions of his dramatic system and the actual 
qualities of the dramas themselves. It is primarily incumbent 
upon the interpreter of Shaw to indicate with sufficient clear- 
ness the discrepancy between theory and practice, between pur- 
pose and performance. No objection need be raised to Shaw's j 
definitions. " Drama is no mere setting up of the camera to'' 
Nature," he says : " it is the presentation in parable of the 
conflict between Man's will and his environment : in a word, of 
problem." But what is one to make of Sir Charles Wynd- 
ham's assertion that Shaw's dramatic works are wonderful in- 
tellectual studies, but not plays? The dramas are undoubtedly 
manufactured after the usual pattern, with divisions called 
acts ; figures like people walk back and forth and engage each 
other in conversation; the mechanical illusion is complete. 
What is it, then, that gives an air of unreality to all this 
mimic show? 

Bernard Shaw possesses in rich measure the genius of the 
stage-director, the pliability and suppleness of the critic of 
modern civilization. The effects he produces, quite often, are 
tremendous. But capitally and congenitally, Shaw is lacking 
in that quality ordinarily recognized as natural dramatic 
genius. In his plays we look almost in vain for those crucial 
emotional conjunctures, those climacteric soul-crises, which 
dramatic critics announce to be the criteria of authentic 
drama — the scene a faire of a Sarcey. Just as Oscar Wilde 
may be said to have invented the comedy of conversation, so 
Bernard Shaw may be said to have invented the drama of dis- 
cussion. The tendency to prolixity and discursiveness has 

* Our Saturday Talk.— VI., Mr. Bernard Shaw, in the Saturday West- 
minster Gazette, November 26th, 1904. 

442 



THE DRAMATIST 

steadily grown upon him ; at last he has thrown off all disguise 
and deliberately set to work to create a dramatic system based 
on dialectic. Two noteworthy features of his career are his ^ 
attacks upon conventional cant and Shakespearean rhetoric. 
And all the time, he has been creating, for his own part ? both 
a Shavian cant and a Shavian rhetoric. " I find that the surest 
way to startle the world with daring innovations and originali- 
ties," he recently said, " is to do exactly what playwrights 
have been doing for thousands of years ; to revive the ancient 
attraction of long rhetorical speeches ; to stick closely to the 
methods of Moliere; and to lift characters bodily out of the 
pages of Charles Dickens." The defining characteristic of his 
plays is their argumentative and controversial character. They 
are expository lectures, in dramatic form, on the Shavian 
philosophy. Mr. Archer once said that Shaw's keen and subtle 
intellect has built for itself a world of its own, in which it sits 
apart, inaccessible ; this world is not the real earth, but 

"Composed just as he is inclined to conjecture her, 
Namely, one part pure earth, ninety-nine parts pure lecturer." 

Instead of the indispensable conflict of wills, we often seem to 
have merely a war of wits, in which the cleverest dialectician 
wins. Aristophanes and Shaw have certainly one point in com- 
mon: the plays of both are dramatized debates. Instead of 
touching each other's emotions, Shaw's characters often seenv 
merely to arouse each other's combative interest. Just as Vic- 
tor Hugo gives a passion apiece to each of his characters and 
lets them fight it out, so Shaw gives a philosophy apiece to 
each of his characters and lets them argue it out. His comedies 
exhibit with tremendous comic irony the exposure of non- 
Shavians by Shavians. One day Huxley in jest described 
Herbert Spencer's idea of a tragedy as " a deduction killed by 
a fact." In a moderate, a partial, sense, this might serve as 
a just criticism of the theatre of Bernard Shaw. 

There is a certain fanciful sort of resemblance between a 
play of Shaw's and a meeting of his own Borough Council: 
the meeting is called to order, there is argument and discus- 
sion pro and con, a resolution is moved, seconded, carried. 

443 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Shaw is positively judicial in his fairness, even to the extent 
of creating the impression that his characters are vocalized 
points of view. With consummate shrewdness, Shaw has fully . 
realized that if the dramatist take sides in a dramatic wrangle,' 
he is lost. A sense of the most absolute fairness and im- 
partiality pervades and dominates his plays. Every character 
has his say without let or hindrance; and the whole play is 
signalized by the " honesty of its dialectic." Shaw does not 
disclaim the fullest responsibility for the opinions of all his 
characters, pleasant and unpleasant. " They are all right from 
their several points of view; and their points of view are, for 
the dramatic moment, mine also. This may puzzle the people 
who believe that there is such a thing as an absolutely right 
point of view, usually their own. It may seem to them that 
nobody who doubts this can be in a state of grace. However 
that may be, it is certainly true that nobody who argues with 
them can possibly be a dramatist, or, indeed, anything else that 
turns upon a knowledge of mankind. Hence it has been pointed 
out that Shakespeare had no conscience. Neither have I, in 
that sense." * 

This quality of anxious self-explanation in his characters, 
this " Let me make clear to you my philosophy of life," pro- 
duces upon the reader and spectator two distinct impressions : 
first an " overwhelming impression of coldness and inhuman V 
rationalism " ; and, second, the impression that the characters 
are replicas or mouthpieces of Shaw himself. The resemblance 
is still further enhanced through the instrumentality of one 
of Shaw's most diverting traits as a humorist : his idiosyncrasy 
for self-mockery and self-puffery. There is nothing, not even 
himself, about which Shaw will not jest; for, to use an Oscar- 
ism, he respects life too deeply to discuss it seriously. He is 
a master of that art of burlesque which, in Brunetiere's harsh 
characterization, consists " in the expansion of the ego in the 
joyous satisfaction of its own vulgarity." One of the truest 
words, spoken in jest, is Shaw's confession that the mainW^ 
obstacle to the performance of his plays has been — himself! 

*Man and Superman: Epistle Dedicatory to Arthur Bingham Walkley, 
p. xxvi. 

444 



THE DRAMATIST 

In contradistinction to the classic formula — that the drama 
should be the most impersonal of the arts — Shaw's drama may 
be defined as a revelation of the personality of Bernard Shaw. 
" We must agree with him," concludes M. Filon, " and accept 
— or reject — the dramatic work of Mr. Shaw as it is, namely, 
as the expression of the ideas, sentiments and fantasies of Mr. 
Shaw." * 

In fine, I should say that Bernard Shaw is a striking in-J/ 
stance of the unusual combination of critical and creative 
faculties. Sometimes the dramatist, he is always the critic.*^ 
While Shaw can make one laugh, it is seldom that he can make 
vtme weep. He unites within himself the power both to con- 
struct and to dissect. With Shaw — the Richter und Dichter 
of German characterization — rationality precedes creation. 
His richly constructive fancy seldom imagines what his cooler 
reason has not already perceived. In his plays, there is 
scarcely a hint of what he himself somewhere described as 
" the stirring of the blood, the bristling of the fibres, the 
transcendent, fearless fury which makes romance so delight- 
ful." Shaw is always perfectly aware of himself; Coventry 
Patmore would have denied him the title of true genius. As 
someone has cleverly said : " Shaw's eye has never yet in a fine 
frenzy rolled." If he had ever listened to the horns of elfland 
faintly blowing, he would doubtless have said afterwards that 
Kosleck of Berlin could have done it better. If he had ever 
heard the morning stars sing together and the sons of God 
shout for joy, the experience would probably have elicited the 
coolly critical remark that the ensemble effect was not as good 
as at Bayreuth, and that the shouting was not as ear-splitting 
as the " wilful bawling " of the De Reszkes. 
VThis coolly critical attitude, which Shaw manages to trans- 
fer to his characters, gives them the appearance of beings 
peculiarly rationalistic and bloodless. In their veins, as Mr. 
Archer once said of the leading characters in Widowers' 
Houses, there seems to flow a sort of sour whey. Shaw has 
almost succeeded in eliminating the Red Corpuscle from Art. 

* M. Bernard Shaw et son ThSdtre, by Augustin Filon; Revue des Deux 
Mondes, November 15th, 1905. 

445 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

• 

His characters seem to be devoid of animal passions ; their 

pallid ratiocinations can more aptly be described as vegetable 
passions. 

In the case of Shaw, I often receive the impression that 
inspiration is replaced by excogitation, imagination by what 
Rossetti called fundamental brain-work. Lessing's phrase, 
" dramatic algebra," is not a wholly inappropriate term for 
his plays. A partial explanation of this phenomenon may 
perhaps be found in the speech I heard him deliver at the 
Vedrenne-Barker dinner. " One hears a lot of talk these days 
about the New School of Shavian playwrights — Granville 
Barker, St. John Hankin, and the rest. I sincerely hope they 
will not try to imitate my style and method. There is only 
one Bernard Shaw, and that one is quite sufficient. I find a 
striking analogy between the case of the old Italian masters 
and myself. When they began to work, they found that the 
human form had been neglected and ignored. Forthwith they 
began to paint works which appeared to be anatomical studies, 
so emphasized was the figure. I found myself in much the 
same situation when I first began to write for the stage. I 
found that the one thing which had been neglected and ignored 
by British dramatists was human nature. So I began to put 
human nature barely and nakedly upon the stage, which so 
startled the public that they declared that my characters were 
utterly unnatural and untrue to life. But I have gone on and 
on exposing human nature, more and more in each succeeding 
play. If my imitators continue to reveal human nature so 
ruthlessly, I am afraid I shall have done more harm than 
good." * The greatest artist, according to Shaw's own defini- 
tion, is " he who goes a step beyond the demand, and, by sup- 
plying works of a higher beauty and a higher interest than 
have yet been perceived, succeeds, after a brief struggle with 
its strangeness, in adding this fresh extension of sense to the 
^ heritage of the race." It is a mark of Shaw's high purpose, of 
the sociologic significance of the man, that he employs art 

* Response to the toast: The Authors of the Court Theatre, by G. Ber- 
nard Shaw, at the Vedrenne-Barker Dinner, Criterion Restaurant, London, 
July 7th, 190T. 

446 






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Ali-in Lang don Coburn.~\ 

SHAW'S PRESENT HOME IN LONDON. 
10. Adelphi Terrace. W.C. 



[Facing p~U0 



THE DRAMATIST 

merely as one of a number of means by which he can put his 
ideas into effect. Doubtless because of his belief that philo- 
sophic content is the touchstone of real greatness in art — that 
Bunyan is greater than Shakespeare, Blake than Lamb, Ibsen 
than Swinburne, Shaw than Pinero — his plays have something 
of the rigidity of theses. Shaw's plays not infrequently suf- 
fer from the malady of the a priori. Sometimes they are even 
stricken down with what Wagner called the incurable disease 
of thought. 

Shakespeare created a drama of human nature in which 
the actions of the characters are their own commentary. 
Maeterlinck created a drama of shadow in which the characters 
are most articulate in their silence. Shaw has created a drama 
of discussion in which his characters have not the strength 

//to hold their tongues. Shakespeare's characters are self- 
unconscious characters; Maeterlinck's, subconscious; Shaw's, 
self-conscious. Mr. Holbrook Jackson remarks that "Shaw's 
drama is the only consistently religious drama of the day — it 
is as relentless in its pursuit of an exalted idea as were the 
ancient Moralities and Mysteries." But Mr. Jackson fails 
to draw the conclusion that, for this reason, Shaw's characters 
often take on the guise of intellectual abstractions. The 
Frenchman calls them hommes-idees ; the German, Gedcmken- 
vuppen. Shaw's plays are pitched on a plane of transcen- 
dental realism. His supreme gift as a dramatist, someone has 
wisely said, is to produce an impression of life more real than 
reality itself. His power of penetrative insight at times ap- 
pears to be something almost like divination. The soul of his 
wit is laconic brevity and marvellous astuteness in character 
exposure. His dialogue is the most entertaining, the most 

** diverting, that has been written since the days of Sheridan. 
He has succeeded in interpreting life with so precise and so 
illuminating a medium that he frequently transcends the bounds 
of plausibility, probability, or even possibility, without the 
lapse being noted. Many, perhaps the majority, of his lead- 
ing characters, operate upon a plane of fantasy; the psycho- 
logical impossibility of their actions is concealed by the 
intellectual credibility of their ideas. They appear as the 

447 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

mouthpieces of his theories, as replicas of his personality, or 
as changing aspects of his own temperament. Or else, in the 
later plays, they appear as embodied forces of Nature, as 
allegorical personifications of modern Moralities. Shaw is con- 
stitutionally opposed to " holding the kodak up to Nature " ; 
he believes in making the chaos of Nature intelligible by intel- 
ligent choice of material. His metier, then, is interpretation, 
not observation. As a consequence, he gives us life interpreted 
in strict accordance with Shavian sophistication. In large 
part, he depicts human beings not as they really are, but as 
they might be supposed to be if animated by the Shavian phi- 
losophy modified to suit the needs of their individual tempera- 
ments. 

Quite a number of Shaw's leading characters, and the ma- 
jority of the subsidiary characters, are marvellously natural 
studies in contemporary psychology. Unhampered by the im- 
pedimenta of Shavianism, they move freely and naturally along 
the beaten paths of humanity. Now and then, we are whisked 
away to the realm of fantasy; or else we have only to shut 
our eyes and open our ears to hear Shaw's ironical laughter 
echo through their speeches. But, on the whole, we are not 
deceived in believing that Bernard Shaw's plays are all stages 
in his search for the essential reality of things. Along the 
pathway, he has left many vivid, many brilliant, many com- 
prehensible, some complex, and all essentially modern figures. 
Sartorius, kind-hearted and inhumane; the unwomanly 
" womanly woman," Julia ; Mrs. Warren, reptilianly fasci- 
nating and repulsive, her mother-love slain by the relentless 
sword of her profession; Crofts, upholding a hideously im- 
moral standard of honour before our sickened gaze ; Bluntschli, 
genial, droll expositor of the prose and common sense of life; 
Marchbanks, anaemic, asthenic — a visionary penetrating to the 
truth beneath all disguises and learning the lesson of life in 
the black hour of disillusionment; Morell, the stupid, good- 
natured, self-centred parson; Candida, the maternal clair- 
voyant e; Dudgeon, the fascinating dare-devil, resolute in ful- 
filment of the law of his own nature; Judith, the sentimental 
and larmoyante; Lady Cicely, ingenuous, tactful, feline, irre- 

448 



THE DRAMATIST 

sistible; Cleopatra, subtly evolving from a kittenish minx into 
a tigerish and vengeful tyrant; the boyish, energetic, humane 
Caesar, large in humour and in comic perception; Broadbent, 
the typical, stolid Englishman, blunderingly successful because 
he doesn't know where he is going; Keegan, the gentle and the 
bitter, vox clamantis in deserto, interpreting a new trinity for 
the worship of the coming age; Sir Patrick Cullen, quintes- 
sence of gruff and kindly common sense; the immortal Wil- 
liam, deferential and urbane; and how many more! — a group 
of finely imagined, subtly conceived, essentially real, if not 
always credibly human, beings. 

Shaw is a marvellous portrait painter, a Sargent in his in- 
sight into human nature and into contemporary life. He is 
a wit of the very first rank, a satirist to be classed with 
^ Voltaire, Renan and Anatole France. The static drama he 
has created enlarges our conception of the function of the 
drama. The new dramatic system of Shaw's creation, in the 
words of M. Filon, subordinates the development of the senti- 
mental action to the painting of characters and the discussion 
of ideas. Like Moliere, Shaw has stamped his characters in 
the idea, and made of them the necessary exponents of con- 
temporary philosophy, the inevitable interpreters of contem- 
porary life. 

Capitally and fundamentally, Bernard Shaw's drama is 
socially deterministic. His characters are what they are, be- 
come what they become, far less on account of heredity or 
ancestral influence than on account of the social structure of 
the environment through which their fate is moulded. Econo- 
mist as well as moralist, Shaw attributes paramount im- 
portance to the economic and political conditions of the 
regime in which his characters live and move and have their 
being. His drama has its true origin in the conflict between 
the wills of his characters and the social determinism perpetu- 
ally at work to destroy the freedom of their wills. The germ 
•^ idea of his philosophy is rooted in the effort to supplant 
modern social organization by Socialism through the inter- 
mediary of the free operation of the will of humanity. 



449 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 



" It was easy for Ruskin to lay down the rule of dying rather than doing 
unjustly; but death is a plain thing, justice a very obscure thing. How 
is an ordinary man to draw the line between right and wrong otherwise 
than by accepting public opinion on the subject; and what more conclusive 
expression of sincere public opinion can there be than market demand? 
Even when we repudiate that and fall back on our own judgment, the 
matter gathers doubt rather than clearness. The popular notion of mo- 
rality and piety is to simply beg all the more important questions in life 
for other people; but when these questions come home to ourselves, we 
suddenly discover that the devil's advocate has a stronger case than we 
thought: we remember that the way of righteousness or death was the way 
of the Inquisition; that hell is paved, not with bad intentions but with good 
ones." — An Essay on Modern Glove Fighting appended to Cashel Byron's 
Profession. 



CHAPTER XV 

IT is worthy of record that Bernard Shaw does not claim to 
be a great novelist, or a great dramatist, or a great critic. 
As Mr. Chesterton says, Shaw is very dogmatic, but very 
humble. Indeed, Mr. Shaw once wrote me that he does not 
claim to be great: either he is or he is not great, and that is 
an end of the matter! But it is highly significant that Shaw 
does specifically claim to be a philosopher. Shaw's philo- 
sophical ideas have generally been regarded by English and 
American critics either as of undoubted European derivation, 
or else as fantastic paradoxes totally unrelated to the existing 
body of thought. " I urge them to remember," Shaw remon- 
strates, " that this body of thought is the slowest of growths 
and the rarest of blossomings, and that if there is such a thing 
on the philosophic plane as a matter of course, it is that no 
individual can make more than a minute contribution to it." 
Whilst it is undoubtedly true that Shaw's philosophy has been 
partially shared in by many forerunners, nevertheless, he has 
made his own " minute contribution " to the existing body of 
thought. Bernard Shaw is an independent thinker and natural 
moralist, with a clearly co-ordinated system of philosophy. 
Let us critically endeavour, then, in the language of political 
economy, to award Shaw his merited " rent of ability." 

Shaw's fundamental postulate is that morality is not a stag- 
nant quality, the same yesterday, to-day and for ever, but 
transitory and evolutional. Morality flows : " What people 
call vice is eternal; what they call virtue is mere fashion." A 
celebrated French critic once declared : " La morale est pure- 
ment geographique." Shaw goes far beyond this in the asser- 
tion that morality is a creature of occasion, conditioned by 
circumstance. And why is it that morality comes to be re- 
garded as not in itself a fixed quantity, a solid substratum of 
human consciousness, but a concomitant fluxion of civilization? 

453 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

It is because, historically considered, progress connotes repu- 
diation of custom: social advance takes effect through the 
replacement of old institutions by new ones. " Since every 
institution involves the duty of conforming to it, progress 
must involve the repudiation of an established duty at every 
turn." History shows us a world strewn with the wrecks of 
institutions whose laws, upheld for a time as fixed, were eventu- 
ally broken by the triumphant assertion of the crescent will of 
man. This phenomenon is not to be confused with that in 
which an institution is burst simply by the natural growth of 
the social organism. The phenomenon of which we are speak- 
ing involves a deliberate assertion of self-constituted authority 
on the part of the individual in defiance of established and gen- 
erally accepted customs.* 

" The ideal is dead ; long live the ideal ! " is the epitome of 
all human progress. It is the note of nineteenth century lit- 
erature. For the first time in history the devil began to get 
his due. Men ceased to be always on the side of the angels; 
a new day was dawning, the day of the saintly anarch, the 
advocatus diaboli. Shaw has given us a brief history of the 
movement : 

" Formerly, when there was a question of canonizing 
a pious person, the devil was allowed an advocate to sup- 
port his claims to the pious person's soul. But nobody 
ever dreamt of openly defending him as a much misun- 
derstood and fundamentally right-minded regenerator of 
the race until the nineteenth century, when William Blake 
boldly went over to the other side and started a devil's 
party. Fortunately for himself, he was a poet, and so 

* Shaw's philosophy has many points of contact with the Pragmatism of 
Schiller and James. Shaw sees in truth and justice, not abstract principles 
external to man, but human passions, which have, in their time, conflicted 
with higher passions as well as with lower ones. With James he is at one 
in the belief that " Truth has its palaeontology, and its ' prescription ' and 
may grow stiff with years of veteran service and petrified in men's regard 
by sheer antiquity"; and with Schiller's "humanistic" doctrine that "to 
an unascertainable extent our truths are man-made products too." To 
Shaw, as to James, " * the right ' is only the expedient in the way of our 
behaving." 

454 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

passed as a paradoxical madman instead of a blasphemer. 
For a long time the party made little direct progress, the 
nation being occupied with the passing of its religion 
through the purifying fire of a criticism which did at last 
smelt some of the grosser African elements out of it, but 
which also exalted duty, morality, law and altruism above 
faith ; reared ethical societies ; and left my poor old friend 
the devil (for I, too, was a Diabolonian born) worse off 
than ever. Mr. Swinburne explained Blake, and even 
went so far as to exclaim : ' Come down and redeem us 
from virtue ' ; but the pious influences of Putney reclaimed 
him, and he is now a respectable, Shakespeare-fearing 
man. Mark Twain emitted some Diabolonian sparks, only 
to see them extinguished by the overwhelming American 
atmosphere of chivalry, duty and gentility. A miserable 
spurious Satanism, founded on the essentially pious dogma 
that the Prince of Darkness is no gentleman, sprang up 
in Paris, to the heavy discredit of the true cult of the 
Son of the Morning. All seemed lost, when suddenly the 
cause found its dramatist in Ibsen, the first leader who 
really dragged duty, unselfishness, idealism, self-sacrifice, 
and the rest of the anti-diabolic scheme to the bar at 
which it had indicted so many excellent Diabolonians. 
The outrageous assumption that a good man may do 
anything he thinks right (which in the case of a naturally 
good man means, by definition, anything he likes), with- 
out regard to the interests of bad men or of the com- 
munity at large, was put on its defence, and the party 
became influential at last. 

" After the dramatist came the philosopher. In Eng- 
land, G. B. S. ; in Germany, Nietzsche." * 

The whole anarchistic spirit of our time is summed up in 
the words of a character in one of Ibsen's plays : " The old 
beauty is no longer beautiful ; the new truth is no longer true." 

* Giving the Devil His Due: a review, by Bernard Shaw, of Vols. I. and 
II. of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. Supplement to the Saturday Re- 
view, May 13th, 1899. 

455 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

Every age has its dominant accepted ideas and forms; but, 
as Georg Brandes has said : " besides these, it owns another 
whole class of quite different ideas, which have not yet taken 
shape, but are in the air, and are apprehended by the great- 
est men of the age as the results which must now be arrived at." 
The ideas of the evolutionary trend of human ideals, of the 
triumphant hypocrisy of current morality, of the necessity 
for challenging and repudiating the code of the human herd 
were in the air: they were slowly being arrived at. We hear 
Chamf ort's contemptuous assertion : " II y a a parier que toute 
idee publique — toute convention recue — est une sottise; car 
elle a convenue au plus grand nombre" We see William 
Blake performing the ceremony of the Marriage of Heaven 
and Hell; the Pirate King in W. So Gilbert's Pirates of Pen- 
zance repudiates bourgeois respectability in his reply to Fred- 
eric's urgent request to accompany him back to civilization: 
" No, Frederic, it cannot be. I don't think much of our pro- 
fession, but, contrasted with respectability, it is comparatively 
honest. No, Frederic ; I shall live and die a pirate king." In 
The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, Mark Twain posits a 
new reading of the Lord's Prayer: " Lead us (not) into temp- 
tation " ; he arraigns the morality of custom in Was It Heaven 
or Hell? Nietzsche works his way, through the " outer forti- 
fications, the garb and masquerade; the occasional incrusta- 
tion, petrification, dogmatization " of the ideal, to a position 
beyond good and evil, from which he transvalues all moral 
values.* 

With Ibsen, the disciple as well as the master of his age, 
the newer ideas gained currency through the medium of the 
drama. The individualist Stockmann, in An Enemy of the 

* " * Is here,' someone will ask, ■ an ideal being erected, or an ideal being 
broken down?* But have ye ever really asked yourselves sufficiently as to 
how dearly the erection of all ideals on earth were paid for? How much 
reality had to be slandered and misconceived for this purpose; how much 
falsehood sanctioned ; how much conscience confused ; how much ' God ' 
sacrificed each time? In order that a sanctuary may be erected, a sanctuary 
must be broken down: this is the law — name me an instance in which 
it is violated!" Friedrich Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals, translated by 
William A. Hausemann, p. 122 (Macmillan). 

456 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

People, preaches the salutary sermon of the " saving rem- 
nant " in his passionate declamation: "The majority is never 
right! That's one of the social lies a free, thinking man is 
bound to rebel against. Who make up the majority in any 
given country? Is it the wise men or the fools? I think all 
must agree that the fools are in a terribly overwhelming ma- 
jority all the world over. . . . What sort of truths do the 
majority rally round? Truths that are decrepit with age. 
When a truth is as old as that, then it's in a fair way to 
become a lie." Ibsen is one with Saint Augustine in the belief 
that it matters not so much what we are as what we are be- 
coming. " Neither our moral conceptions nor our artistic 
forms," he once said, " have an eternity before them. How 
much in duty are we really bound to hold on to? Who can 
afford me a guarantee that up yonder on Jupiter two and two 
do not make five ? " And at a dinner at the Grand Hotel, 
Stockholm, he concretized this tenet of modern faith in the 
words : " It has been asserted on various occasions that I am 
a pessimist. So I am to this extent — that I do not believe 
human ideals to be eternal. But I am also an optimist, for 
I believe firmly in the power of those ideals to propagate and 
develop." In like manner Zola declared that there was always 
a contest between men of unconquerable temperaments and the 
herd : " I am on the side of the temperaments, and I attack 
the herd." How fiercely Schopenhauer and Shelley, Lassalle 
and Karl Marx, Ruskin and Carlyle, Morris and Wagner 
railed at all the orthodoxies, the respectabilities and the ideals ! 
Heine tilted against the Philistine, " the strong, dogged, un- 
enlightened opponent of the chosen people, of the children 
of light," with an elan equalled only by the detestation of 
Carlyle for the snobbery which he denominated " respectability 
in its thousand gigs." The literature of the age resounded 
with the " rattle of twentieth century tumbrils." 

Nietzsche has declared that the good taste, the " honesty," 
of a psychologist consists nowadays, if in anything, in his 
opposing the shamefully permoralized language by which as 
by a phlegm all modern judging on men and things is covered. 
His aim must be to " re-discover " the incarnate innocence in 

457 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

moralistic mendaciousness, to stagger the complacency of the 
illuded, ever " holding aloft the banner of the ideal," to divorce 
the imagined life from the real. Mr. W. S. Gilbert was the 
first modern English dramatist to satirize the morality of cus- 
tom; but his philosophy was a mere farcical masquerade and 
sham. " He would put forward a paradox," Shaw has justly 
observed, " which at first promised to be one of those humane 
truths which so many modern men of fine spiritual insight, 
from William Blake onward, have worded so as to flash out 
their contradictions of some weighty rule of our systematized 
morality, and would then let it slip through his fingers, leav- 
ing nothing but a mechanical topsy-turvitude." * 

Bernard Shaw has identified the function of comedy with 
the destruction of old-established morals. In play after play, 
from Mrs. Warren's Profession and Arms and the Man to The 
Devil's Disciple and Man and Superman, he has mordantly and 
fiercely attacked that " inmost feminism which delights in call- 
ing itself idealism," that Philistine respectability which vaunts 
itself on its " morality of custom," and the genuine British 
narrowness, with its humdrum conservatism, its slavery to 
routine, its stupid distrust of new ideas and fear of bold think- 
ing. Like Ibsen, he is always an outpost thinker, having no 
tolerance for conservatism — the attitude of " the little narrow- 
chested, short-winded crew that lie in our wake." He has lived 
in passionate defiance of the precept: 

" Be not the first by whom the new is tried, 
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside." 

The step from the premiss that morality is a variable func- 
tion of civilization to the conclusion that salvation lies alone 

*To take a single example, consult My Bream, from The Bab Ballads 
and Songs of a Savoyard, the first two stanzas of which read: 

The other night, from cares exempt, 
I slept — and what d'you think I dreamt? 
I dreamt that somehow I had come 
To dwell in Topsy-Turvydom. 
Where vice is virtue — virtue, vice; 
Where nice is nasty — nasty, nice; 
Where right is wrong and wrong is right; 
Where white is black and black is white. 

458 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

in revolt was inevitable. Historically considered, the stages 
in the growth of man's spirit may be classified under three 
heads : Faith, Reason, Will. First came the age of Faith : man 
accepted the precepts of the Bible as the revelation of God's 
voice. Faith in the Bible became the criterion of righteous 
intention, and for a time the authority of the Church reigned 
supreme. After a while came the age of free-thought, of 
Reason ; the free-thinker begins to " find reasons for not doing 
what he does not want to do; and these reasons seem to him 
to be far more binding on the conscience than the precepts 
of a book of which the divine inspiration cannot be rationally 
proved." Faith was dethroned by Reason, and rationalist 
" free-thinking " soon came to mean " syllogism worship with 
rites of human sacrifice." 

The great error of the Rationalists is latent in Voltaire's 
reply to the plea of the poetaster that he must live : " Je rien 
vols pas la necessite." " The evasion was worthy of the Fa- 
ther of Lies himself," Shaw has it ; " for Voltaire was face 
to face with the very necessity he was denying — must have 
known, consciously or not, that it was the universal postulate — 
would have understood, if he had lived to-day, that since all 
human institutions are constructed to fulfil man's will, and 
that his will is to live even when his reason teaches him to die, 
logical necessity, which was the sort Voltaire meant (the other 
sort being visible enough) can never be a motor in human ac- 
tion, and is, in short, not necessity at all." In the course of 
time came Schopenhauer to re-establish the old theological doc- 
trine that reason is no motive power ; that the true motive 
power in the world — otherwise life — is will, and that the set- 
ting up of reason above will is a damnable error. 

Shaw has warned us that acceptance of the metaphysics of 
Schopenhauerism by no means involves endorsement of its 
philosophy. To Shaw, the cardinal Rationalist error into 
which Schopenhauer fell consisted in making happiness the test 
of the value of life. Shaw is the most vigorous possible com- 
batant of the pessimist conclusion that life is not worth living, 
and that " the will which urges us to live in spite of this is 

459 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

necessarily a malign torturer, the desirable end of all things 
being the Nirvana of the stilling of the will, and the consequent 
setting of life's sun ' into the blind cave of eternal night.' " 
The keynote of the Shavian philosophy is the pursuit of life 
for its own sake. Life is realized only as activity that satisfies 
the will: that is, as self-assertion. Every extension or intensi- 
fication of activity is an increase in life. Quantity and quality 
of activity measure the value of existence. Shaw has refused 
to acknowledge the validity of the will of the official theo- 
logians, because their God stands outside man and in authority 
above him. He accepted Schopenhauer's view of the will as 
a " purely secular force of nature, attaining various degrees 
of organization, here as a jelly-fish, there as a cabbage, more 
complexly as an ape or a tiger, and attaining its highest form, 
so far, in the human being." This was Shaw's key to the 
works of two great artists, Wagner and Ibsen, notably, The 
Ring and Emperor and Galilean. 

It is the idlest nonsense to say of Shaw, in Oscar Wilde's 
phrase, that he has the courage of other people's convictions. 
Shaw's most conspicuous trait is his courage in challenging and 
defying other people's convictions. Instead of clinging to the 
pessimism of Schopenhauer, he has been bold enough to " drop 
the Nirvana nonsense, the pessimism, the rationalism, the the- 
ology, and all the other subterfuges to which we cling because 
we are afraid to look life straight in the face and see in it, not 
the fulfilment of a moral law or the deductions of reason, but 
the satisfaction of a passion in us of which we can give no 
account." Claiming for himself the faculty of unilluded vision, 
he conceives it his mission to tear away the veils with which 
we persist in hiding realities and to call things by their true 
names, instead of the false names with which we are content 
to dupe ourselves. Mr. Walkley once said : " Mr. Shaw takes 
up the empty bladders of life, the current commonplaces, the 
cant phrases, the windbags of rodomontade, the hollow conven- 
tions and the sham sentiments ; quietly inserts his pin, and the 
thing collapses with a pop." But Shaw regards this as a cheap 
job which any man might do and which Mr. Walkley himself 

460 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

excels in. " It is not the bubbles and bladders that require 
some tackling," Mr. Shaw once observed to me ; " it is 
the solid brass that has to be assayed and proved to be base 
metal." 

In many places, in varying ways, Shaw has given pungent 
expression to the opinion so well advanced in Meredith's words : 
" Our world is all but a sensational world at present, in mater- 
nal travail of a soberer, a braver, a bright-eyed." The clarity 
of Shaw's vision has saved him from the cheap crudeness of 
pessimism : unlike Ibsen, plenty of " sound potatoes " have 
come under his observation. His position is clearly expressed 
in his own words: 

" Now to me, as a realist playwright, the applause of 
the conscious, hardy pessimist is more exasperating than 
the abuse of the unconscious, fearful one. I am not a 
pessimist at all. It does not concern me that, according 
to certain ethical systems, all human beings fall into 
classes labelled liar, coward, thief, and so on. I am my- 
self, according to these systems, a liar, a coward, a thief, 
and a sensualist; and it is my deliberate, cheerful and 
entirely self-respecting intention to continue to the end 
of my life deceiving people, avoiding danger, making my 
bargains with publishers and managers on principles of 
supply and demand instead of abstract justice, and in- 
dulging all my appetites, whenever circumstances com- 
mend such actions to my judgment. If any creed or 
system deduces from this that I am a rascal incapable 
on occasion of telling the truth, facing a risk, forgoing 
a commercial advantage, or resisting an intemperate im- 
pulse of any sort, then so much the worse for the creed 
or system, since I have done all these things, and will 
probably do them again. The saying, ' All have sinned ' 
is, in the sense in which it was written, certainly true of 
all the people I have ever known. But the sinfulness of 
my friends is not unmixed with saintliness: some of their 
actions are sinful, others saintly. And here, again, if the 

461 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ethical system to which the classifications of saint and 
sinner belong, involves the conclusion that a line of cleav- 
age drawn between my friends' sinful actions and their 
saintly ones will coincide exactly with one drawn between 
their mistakes and their successes (I include the highest 
and the widest sense of the two terms), then so much the 
worse for the system ; for the facts contradict it. Persons 
obsessed by systems may retort : ' No ; so much the worse 
for your friends ' — implying that I must move in a circle 
of rare blackguards; but I am quite prepared not only 
to publish a list of friends of mine whose names would put 
such a retort to open shame, but to take any human being, 
alive or dead, of whose actions a genuinely miscellaneous 
unselected dozen can be brought to light, to show that 
none of the ethical systems habitually applied by dra- 
matic critics (not to mention other people) can verify 
their inferences. As a realist dramatist, therefore, it is 
my business to get outside these systems. . . . The fact 
is, though I am willing and anxious to see the human 
race improved, if possible, still I find that, with reasonably 
sound specimens, the more intimately I know people the 
better I like them; and when a man concludes from this 
that I am a cynic, and that he who prefers stage monsters 
— walking catalogues of the systematized virtues — to his 
own species, is a person of wholesome philanthropic tastes, 
why, how can I feel toward him except as an English- 
woman feels toward the Arab, who, faithful to his system, 
denounces her indecency in appearing in public with her 
mouth uncovered." * 

The destruction of the principle of alien authority carries 
with it the necessity for the creation of the individual standard. 
The dethronement of rationalism, be it observed, involves no 
repudiation of logic and intellect as guides to everyday life. 
" Ability to reason accurately is as desirable as ever, since it 

* A Dramatic Realist to His Critics, in the New Review (London), July, 
1894. 

462 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

is only by accurate reasoning that we can calculate our actions 
so as to do what we intend to do — that is, to fulfil our will." 
Instead of accepting the nude, anarchistic formula of Maurice 
Barres, for example, " Fais ce que tu veux" Shaw may be un- 
derstood to enjoin: "Form your moral conscience and act as 
it directs you." * 

A development in our moral views must first appear insane 
and blasphemous, Shaw has time and again warned us, to peo- 
ple who are satisfied, or more than satisfied, with the current 
morality. Henri Beyle was for long, and still is, much mis- 
understood for the simple reason that the characters he created 
evolve their own standard, pursue their cherished ideals with 
unfaltering determination, and brook no interference, make 
no compromise, until they have won and established their self- 
respect. All the while insisting on the prudence necessary to 
discover the way for the will, Shaw has unhesitatingly taken 
the supreme step, realizing always that " Every step in morals 
is made by challenging the validity of the existing conception 
of perfect propriety of conduct. . . . Heterodoxy in art is 
at worst rated as eccentricity or folly: heterodoxy in morals 
is at once rated as scoundrelism, and, what is worse, propa- 
gandist scoundrelism, which must, we are told, if successful, 
undermine society and bring us back to barbarism after a 
period of decadence like that which brought Imperial Rome 
to its downfall." 

The time comes, however, when the voice of instinctive tem- 
perament makes itself heard and heeded. In the past the 
younger generation waited, but with a divine impatience, until 
" they were old enough to find their aspirations toward the 
fullest attainable activity and satisfaction working out in prac- 
tice very much as they have worked out in the life of the race ; 
so that the revolutionist at twenty-five, who saw nothing for 
it but a clean sweep of all our institutions, found himself, at 

* This morality is no new thing under the sun ; Maurice Maeterlinck has 
declared that our morality of to-day has nothing to add to this injunction, 
found in the Arabian Nights: "Learn to know thyself! And do thou not 
act till then. And do thou then only act in accordance with all thy desires, 
but having great care always that thou do not injure thy neighbour." 

463 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

forty, accepting and even clinging to them on condition of 
a few reforms to bring them up to date." To-day the younger 
generation is loud in its demands, imperious in its insistence. 
They are outspoken in their scepticism concerning the infalli- 
bility of their parents, they insist that their " spiritual pastors 
and masters " speak humanly, and not dogmatically, of mo- 
rality, and are determined to try all pontifical wisdom by the 
touchstone of experience. They formulate their heresy as a 
faith, and Shaw is the arch-heretic of them all. Ibsen would 
abolish the State and inaugurate a bloodless revolution: a 
revolution of the spirit of man; Hauptmann poetizes the 
Nietzschean ideal in Die Versunkene Glocke; Sudermann chal- 
lenges the equity of parental authority in Heimat. With all the 
appearance of profound wisdom and abstract justice, Maeter- 
linck teaches that the preservation of virtue and adherence to 
conventional moral standards may be the quintessence of 
selfishness and egotism. Tolstoy preaches an impossible ideal 
of celibacy, and Shaw would abolish marriage because it is the 
" most licentious of human institutions." Modern literature 
from Ibsen and Nietzsche to Bourget and Shaw is a " long 
litany in praise of the man who wills." Men to-day contemn 
the " slavery to duty and discipline which has left so many 
soured old people with nothing but envious regrets for a vir- 
tuous youth." Moral heroism is the toast of the epoch — " the 
heroism of the man who believes in himself and dares do the 
thing he wills." It finds complete expression in Henley's best 
known poem, with its clamant finale : 

" I am the master of my fate, 
I am the captain of my soul." 

The philosophy whose pa?an is glorification of the man whose 
standards are within himself, whose actions are controlled 
by his will, carries with it certain inevitable and shocking con- 
sequences. It is the clearest proof of Shaw's consistency that 
he has never swerved one jot from the course marked out by 
himself. He accepts the disagreeable consequences along with 
the rest, neither blinking nor shirking them. Georg Brandes 
epitomized his doctrine in the words : " To obey one's senses 

464 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

is to have character. He who allows himself to be guided by 
his own passions has individuality." Shaw has avowed that he 
regards this as excellent doctrine, both in Brandes' form and 
in the older form: " He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; 
and he that is filthy, let him be filthy still; and he that is 
righteous, let him be righteous still; and he that is holy, let 
him be holy still." Shaw is fundamentally an optimist; he 
identifies all life with the will itself. This will, this Life Force, 
he refuses to regard as naturally malign and devilish. His 
life-work may be said to consist in an attack upon the concep- 
tion that passions are necessarily base and unclean; his art 
works are glorifications of the man of conviction who can find 
a motive, and not an excuse, for his passions; whose conduct 
flows from his own ideas of right and wrong; and who obeys 
the law of his own nature in defiance of appearance, of criti- 
cism, and of authority. This abrogation of authority, this 
repudiation of systematized morality is the step which the 
strongest spirits in all history have taken; it is the inevitable 
step for the naturally good man, who can breathe only in an 
atmosphere of truth and freedom. Emancipation comes only 
when man fulfils his duty to himself; but one's duty to oneself, 
as Shaw has reminded us, is no duty at all, since a debt is 
cancelled when the debtor and creditor are the same person. 
" Its payment is simply a fulfilment of the individual will, upon 
which all duty is a restriction." 

The obverse of the medal is not so clear: What will happen 
in the case of a person of ungovernable temper, of unbridled 
passions? The whole philosophy of his position, with all its 
appalling consequences, Shaw has expounded in that most re- 
markable of all his philosophical essays, entitled, A Degener- 
ate's View of Nordau. 

" If ' the heart of man is deceitful above all things, 
and desperately wicked,' then truly, the man who allows 
himself to be guided by his passions must needs be a 
scoundrel, and his teacher might well be slain by his par- 
ents. But how if the youth, thrown helpless on his pas- 
sions, found that honesty, that self-respect, that hatred 

465 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of cruelty and injustice, that the desire for soundness and 
health and efficiency, were master passions — nay, that 
their excess is so dangerous to youth that it is part of 
the wisdom of age to say to the young : ' Be not righteous 
overmuch: why shouldst thou destroy thyself? ' . . . The 
people who profess to renounce and abjure their own 
passions, and ostentatiously regulate their conduct by the 
most convenient interpretation of what the Bible means, 
or, worse still, by their ability to find reasons for it (as if 
there were not excellent reasons to be found for every con- 
ceivable course of conduct, from dynamite and vivisection 
to martyrdom), seldom need a warning against being 
righteous overmuch, their attention, indeed, often needing 
a rather pressing jog in the opposite direction. The 
truth is that passion is the steam in the engine of all 
religious and moral systems. In so far as it is malevolent, 
the religions are malevolent too, and insist on human sac- 
rifices, on hell, wrath and vengeance. You cannot read 
Browning's ' Caliban upon Setebos, or Natural Theology 
on the Island ' without admitting that all our religions 
have been made as Caliban made his, and that the differ- 
ence between Caliban and Prospero is that Prospero is 
mastered by holier passions. And as Caliban imagined his 
theology, so did Mill reason out his essay on 4 Liberty ' 
and Spencer his ' Data of Ethics.' In them we find the 
authors still trying to formulate abstract principles of 
conduct — still missing the fact that truth and justice are 
not abstract principles external to man, but human pas- 
sions, which have, in their time, conflicted with higher 
passions as well as with lower ones." 

It is one of Shaw's disconcerting theories — after Blake — 
that " the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom " ; the 
law of the stern asceticism of satiety is that " you never know 
what is enough unless you know what is more than enough." 
In amplifying this idea Shaw once said : " When Blake told 
men that through excess they would learn moderation, he knew 
that the way for the present lay through the Venusberg, and 

466 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

that the race would assuredly not perish there as some indi- 
viduals have, and as the Puritan fears we all shall unless we find 
a way round. Also, he no doubt foresaw the time when our 
children would be born on the other side of it, and so be spared 
that fiery purgation." 

It is not mal a propos that the arms of the Shaw family 
should have borne the motto, in Latin : " Know thyself." Shaw 
insists upon the salutary virtue of experience, its reforming 
and educative effect. " If a young woman, in a mood of strong 
reaction against the preaching of duty and self-sacrifice and 
the rest of it," Shaw once wrote, " were to tell Mr. Herbert 
Spencer that she was determined not to murder her own in- 
stincts and throw away her life in obedience to a mouthful of 
empty phrases, I suspect he would recommend the ' Data of 
Ethics ' to her as a trustworthy and conclusive guide to con- 
duct. Under similar circumstances I should unhesitatingly say 
to the young woman : ' By all means do as you propose. Try 
how wicked you can be; it is precisely the same experiment as 
trying how good you can be. At worst, you will only find 
out the sort of person you really are. At best, you will find 
that your passions, if you really and honestly let them all loose 
impartially, will discipline you with a severity your conven- 
tional friends, abandoning themselves to the mechanical rou- 
tine of fashion, could not stand for a day.' As a matter of 
fact, I have seen over and over again this comedy of the 
* emancipated ' young enthusiast flinging duty and religion, 
convention and parental authority, to the winds, only to find 
herself becoming, for the first time in her life, plunged into 
duties, responsibilities and sacrifices from which she is often 
glad to retreat, after a few years' wearing down of her en- 
thusiasm, into the comparatively loose life of an ordinary 
respectable woman of fashion." It is not a case of after 
satiety, moderation; after Venus, Saint Elizabeth; after Bo- 
hemianism, the convent. This is not what happens, except to 
ordinary loose livers. What happens, according to Shaw, is, 
that when we cast off all moral restraint we find Saint Eliza- 
beth and the convent drawing us more passionately to them 
than Venus and the Bohemians. The true trend of the move- 

467 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

ment, it scarcely need be remarked, has been mistaken by many 
of its supporters as well as by its opponents. " The ingrained 
habit of thinking of the propensities of which we are ashamed 
as ' our passions,' " Shaw has shrewdly remarked, " and our 
shame of them and of our propensities to noble conduct as a 
negative and inhibitory department called our conscience, leads 
us to conclude that to accept the guidance of our passions is 
to plunge recklessly into the insupportable tedium of what is 
called a life of pleasure. Reactionists against the almost 
equally insupportable slavery of what is called a life of duty 
are, nevertheless, willing to venture on these terms. The 4 re- 
volted daughter,' exasperated at being systematically lied to 
by her parents on every subject of vital importance to an eager 
and intensely curious young student of life, allies herself with 
really vicious people and with humorists who like to shock the 
pious with gay paradoxes, in claiming an impossible license in 
personal conduct. No great harm is done beyond the inevitable 
and temporary excesses produced by all reactions; for the 
would-be wicked ones find, when they come to the point, that 
the indispensable qualification for a wicked life is not freedom, 
but wickedness." * 

In the present state of the world's civilization, the universal 
application of the Shavian philosophy is neither possible nor 
desirable. Like Nietzsche, Shaw has evolved a philosophy for 
the naturally good man, for the strong man who realizes that 
freedom connotes, not license, but responsibility. His error 
inheres in the statement that no great harm would be done by 
people claiming an impossible license in personal conduct be- 
yond the inevitable and temporary excesses produced by all 
reactions. Far from being temporary and negligible, the con- 
sequences that would result, were every person permitted to 
give a personal unrestricted interpretation of his own instincts, 
would be lasting and irremediable. The average sensual man, 



* Compare also the notable passage, embodying a similar view, in Max 
Stirner's The Ego and His Own (Benjamin R. Tucker, N. Y., 1907), p. 212, 
beginning: "'What am I?' each of you asks himself. An abyss of lawless 
and unregulated impulses, desires, wishes, passions, a chaos without light 
or guiding star! ..." 

468 




^y-eo^ta^ lAJe'/srLt/AW ■ '//////', 



'matat' ■#n/S&06' 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

" the mean sensual man," as Granville Barker translates it — 
for whom passion means merely sexual lust, would take every 
advantage of the loopholes for self-indulgence offered by the 
Shavian programme. Were every man a Martin Luther, a 
William Blake, a Bernard Shaw; were every woman a Mary 
Wollstonecraft, a Candida Burgess, the world might, indeed, 
be clear of cant, of hypocrisy, of moralistic mendaciousness, 
of idealistic sophistication! 

Mr. Shaw once went so far as to assure me that the uni- 
versal application of the Shavian philosophy does actually take 
place. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of people do 
not do what they please, but, aside from scruples of conscience, 
find it vastly more convenient and satisfactory to conform to 
prevailing standards of right and wrong. Indeed, the limits 
to the application of the Shavian philosophy are given by 
Shaw himself when he tells us that " the men in the street have 
no use for principles, because they can neither understand nor 
apply them; and that what they can understand and apply 
are arbitrary rules of conduct, often frightfully destructive 
and inhuman, but at least definite rules enabling the common 
stupid man to know where he stands, and what he may do and 
not do without getting into trouble." That is, most people can 
and actually do fulfil their desires only within the limits pre- 
scribed by the prevailing code of morality. Most men are 
neither philosophers nor moralists. Under present circum- 
stances, as Shaw himself admits, the number of people who can 
think out a line of conduct for themselves is very small, and 
the number who can afford the time for it still smaller. 

" Nobody can afford the time to do it on all points. 
The professional thinker may on occasion make his own 
morality and philosophy as the cobbler may make his own 
boots ; but the ordinary man of business must buy at the 
shop, so to speak, and put up with what he finds on sale 
there, whether it exactly suits him or not, because he can 
neither make a morality for himself nor do without one. 
This typewriter with which I am writing is the best I can 
get; but it is by no means a perfect instrument; and I 

469 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

have not the smallest doubt that in fifty years' time the 
authors of that day will wonder how men could have put 
up with so clumsy a contrivance. When a better one is 
invented, I shall buy it: until then I must make the best 
of it, just as my Protestant and Roman Catholic and Ag- 
nostic friends make the best of their creeds and systems. 
This would be better recognized if people took consciously 
and deliberately to the use of the creeds as they do to 
the use of typewriters. Just as the traffic of a great 
city would be impossible without a code of rules of the 
road which not one wagoner in a thousand could draw up 
for himself, much less promulgate, and without, in London 
at least, an unquestioning consent to treat the policeman's 
raised hand as if it were an impassable bar stretched half 
across the road, so the average man is still unable to get 
through the world without being told what to do at every 
turn, and basing such calculations as he is capable of on 
the assumptions that everyone else will calculate on the 
same assumptions. Even your man of genius accepts a 
thousand rules for every one he challenges ; and you may 
lodge in the same house with an Anarchist for ten years 
without noticing anything exceptional about him. Martin 
Luther, the priest, horrified the greater half of Christen- 
dom by marrying a nun, yet was a submissive conformist 
in countless ways, living orderly as a husband and father, 
wearing what his bootmaker and tailor made for him, and 
dwelling in what the builder built for him, although he 
would have died rather than take his Church from the 
Pope. And when he got a Church made by himself to his 
liking, generations of men calling themselves Lutherans 
took that Church from him just as unquestionably as he 
took the fashion of his clothes from his tailor. As the 
race evolves, many a convention which recommends itself 
by its obvious utility to everyone passes into an automatic 
habit, like breathing; and meanwhile the improvement in 
our nerves and judgment enlarges the list of emergencies 
which individuals may be trusted to deal with on the spur 
of the moment without reference to regulations, but there 

470 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

will for many centuries to come be a huge demand for a 
ready-made code of conduct for general use, which will be 
used more or less as a matter of overwhelming convenience 
by all members of communities." * 

The final effect of the philosophy of Ibsen, of Nietzsche, of 
Shaw is to substitute conscience for conformity.^ With the 
dramatists of the Restoration, as Meredith has reminded us, 
morality was a duenna to be circumvented; with Shaw, mo- 
rality is a mere convenience, like etiquette at a dinner-table or 
drill on a parade-ground. " For too long a time man regarded 
his natural bents with an ' evil eye,' " writes Nietzsche, " so 
that in the end they became related to ' bad conscience.' A 
reverse experiment is in itself possible — but who is strong 
enough for it ? " Readiness to override tradition, to act un- 
conventionally, to violate the current code of morality requires 
moral courage of the very highest order. The sense of moral 
responsibility is infinitely deepened. " Before conversion the 
individual anticipates nothing worse in the way of examina- 
tion at the judgment bar of his conscience," wrote Shaw be- 
fore he had ever heard of Nietzsche, " than such questions as : 
Have you kept the commandments? Have you obeyed the law? 
Have you attended church regularly ; paid your rates and taxes 
to Caesar ; and contributed, in reason, to charitable institutions ? 
It may be hard to do all these things ; but it is still harder not 
to do them, as our ninety-nine moral cowards in the hundred 
know. And even a scoundrel can do them all and yet live a 
worse life than the smuggler or prostitute, who must answer 
• No ' all the way through the catechism. Substitute for such 
a technical examination one in which the whole point to be 
settled is, Guilty or Not Guilty? — one in which there is no 
more and no less respect for chastity than for incontinence, for 
subordination than for rebellion, for legality than for illegality, 

* A Degenerate's View of Nordau, in Liberty, July 27th, 1895. 

f Mr. Shaw has recently pointed out that Professor A. K. Rogers, in his 
Mr. Bernard Shaw's Philosophy (Hibbert Journal, July, 1910), has failed to 
note the "trumpery (!) distinction between instinct and conscience" which 
Shaw had drawn in Man and Superman. 

471 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

for piety than for blasphemy, in short, for the standard vir- 
tues than for the standard vices, and immediately, instead of 
lowering the moral standard by relaxing the tests of worth, 
you raise it by increasing their stringency to a point at which 
no mere pharisaism or moral cowardice can pass them." One 
of John Tanner's epigrams was " Liberty means responsibility. 
That is why most men dread it." All the stock excuses of the 
average man vanish before the inexorable fact of this respon- 
sibility : " ' The woman tempted me'; * The serpent tempted 
me ' ; ' I was not myself at the time ' ; ' I meant well ' ; ' My 
passion got the better of my reason ' ; c It was my duty to do 
it ' ; ' The Bible says that we should do it ' ; ' Everybody does 
it,' and so on. Nothing is left but the frank avowal : 6 1 did 
it because I am built that way.' Every man hates to say that. 
He wants to believe that his generous actions are character- 
istic of him, and that his meannesses are aberrations or conces- 
sions to the force of circumstances." Most men are lacking 
in the " vigilant open-mindedness," the splendid moral courage 
of an Ibsen; few men are willing to face the fearful responsi- 
bility entailed by revolt against the will of the majority. Only 
a master impulse, a ruling passion will drive them to it. 
Shavianism means liberty with a string to it; while knocking 
off the fetters of alien authority, it forges upon one the iron 
band of liberty with responsibility.* Shavianism is the phi- 
losophy for the reformer who is driven by the " passion of a 
great faith " ; in the words of Nietzsche, it is " the privilege of 
the fewest." The keynote of Shaw's philosophy he has sounded 
in the perfect epigram, " The golden rule is that there is no 
golden rule." But, as Mr. Chesterton rightly reminds us, the 
saying can be simply answered by being turned around. " That 
there is no golden rule is itself a golden rule, or, rather, it 
is much worse than a golden rule. It is an iron rule, a fetter 
on the first movement of a man." 

* It is worthy of note that Nietzsche has defined freedom as the will to 
be responsible for oneself. Compare also The Ego and His Own, pp. 237- 
238 (Benjamin R. Tucker, N. Y.), the passage beginning: "To be a man 
is not to realize the ideal of Man, but to realize oneself, the indi- 
vidual. ..." 

472 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

The battle-cry of Shaw's life is the Nietzschean command: 
" Forward, march ! our old morality, too, is a piece of com- 
edy" Originality in regard to moral notions he regards as the 
true diagnostic of the first order in literature, the distinction 
that " sets Shakespeare's Hamlet above his other plays, and 
that sets Ibsen's work as a whole above Shakespeare's work 
as a whole." Bunyan, Blake, Hogarth and Turner (these 
four apart and above all the English classics) , Goethe, Shelley, 
Schopenhauer, Wagner, Ibsen, Morris, Tolstoy and Nietzsche, 
he has told us, are among the writers whose peculiar sense of 
the world he recognizes as more or less akin to his own. 
While granting to Dickens and Shakespeare the " specific 
genius of the fictionist and the common sympathies of human 
feeling and thought in pre-eminent degree," he yet insists that 
in spite of their combination of sound moral judgment with 
light-hearted good-humour, they are concerned with the di- 
versities of the world instead of with its unities. His highest 
meed of praise goes to the artist-philosopher who identifies him- 
self with the purpose of the world. He classes himself with 
writers of the " first order," so called, because he has recog- 
nized and proclaimed in all his works that the rules of code- 
morality and the " need for them produced by the moral and 
intellectual incompetence of the ordinary human animal, are 
no more invariably beneficial and respectable than the sunlight 
which ripens the wheat in Sussex and leaves the desert deadly 
in Sahara, making the cheeks of the ploughman's child rosy 
in the morning and striking the ploughman brainsick or dead 
in the afternoon; no more inspired (and no less) than the 
religion of the Andaman Islanders : as much in need of 
frequent throwing away and replacement as the community's 
boots." 

The prime reason for the accusation that in his plays Shaw 
ignores all human feeling is not as simple as it seems. It is 
not enough to say it is because he is judicially impartial or 
even that he ignores stage logic. Humanity may possibly 
move by clockwork in Shaw's plays, as Mr. Arthur Symons 
once said; but even if it did, there must be some key which 
sets the machine in motion. That key is not intellect, but will ; 

473 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

against which systems, creeds, conventions, every sort of for- 
malism is ineffective and impotent. " Take care to get what 
you like or you will be forced to like what you get " ; that is 
the creed of all his characters ; or, in the words of Ann White- 
field : " The only really simple thing to do is to go straight for 
what you want, and grab it." It is his view that " people imag- 
ine that their actions and feelings are dictated by moral sys- 
tems, by religious systems, by codes of honour and conventions 
of conduct which lie outside the real human will." As a 
dramatist, he recognizes that these conventions do not supply 
them with their motives, but merely serve as very plausible 
ex post facto excuses for their conduct. He has sought to 
reveal to us real people with real motives which are deep down 
in the will itself. It was Sainte Beuve's aim, as he himself 
phrased it, to set forth " the natural history of the intellect." 
One might say of Shaw, the dramatist, that his aim is to set 
forth the natural history of the human will. " Far from ig- 
noring idiosyncrasy, will, passion, impulse, whim, as factors in 
human action, I have placed them so nakedly on the stage that 
the elderly citizen, accustomed to see them clothed with the 
veil of manufactured logic about duty, and to disguise even 
his own impulses from himself in this way, finds the picture as 
unnatural as Carlyle's suggested painting of Parliament sit- 
ting without its clothes." 

It is this unmasking of all the ideals, this shattering of all 
the illusions, this demolition of the romantic cast of life which 
makes Shaw appear as a cynic, representing human creatures 
as frauds, impostors, poseurs, cads, bounders, hypocrites and 
humbugs. It is difficult to convince some people, especially 
women, that Shaw is not a cynic and pessimist. Like Schopen- 
hauer, Shaw is a pure metaphysiologist. It is the inevitable 
result of his disbelief in the validity of custom-made morality 
that he should appear as a cynic, and the characters of his 
plays as frauds and shams. But he has deliberately averred: 
" It is not my object in the least to represent people as hypo- 
crites and humbugs. It is conceit, not hypocrisy, that makes 
a man think he is guided by reasoned principles when he is 
really obeying his instincts." And in explaining his view of 

474 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

the world-comedy, he has shown that, as a dramatist, he pre- 
tends to be, not the historian, but the naturalist of his age. 

" It is this premature search for a meaning that pro- 
duces the comedy. We are not within a million years, as 
yet, of being concerned with the meaning of the world. 
Why do we recognize that philosophy is not a baby's 
business, although its facial expression so strongly sug- 
gests the professional philosopher? Because we know that 
all its mental energy is absorbed by the struggle to attain 
ordinary physical consciousness. It is learning to inter- 
pret the sensations of its eyes and ears and nose and 
tongue and finger-tips. It is ridiculously delighted by a 
silly toy, absurdly terrified by a harmless bogey, because 
it cannot as yet see things as they really are. Well, we 
are all still as much babies in the world of thought as we 
were in our second year in the world of sense. Men are 
not real to us ; they are heroes and villains, respectable 
persons and criminals. Their qualities are virtues and 
vices; the natural laws that govern them are gods and 
devils ; their destinies are rewards and expiations ; their 
conditions are innocence and guilt — there is no end to 
the amazing transubstantiations and childish imaginings 
which delight and terrify us because we have not yet 
grown up enough to be capable of genuine natural history. 
And then people come to you with their heads full of these 
figments, which they call, if you please, ' the world,' and 
ask you what is the meaning of them. The answer is, that 
they have not even an existence, much less a meaning. The 
blank incredulity of men to that reply, and their absurd 
attempts to act on their illusions, are as funny as the 
antics of a baby : that is what you call the world-comedy. 
But when they try to force others to act on them, when 
they ostracize, punish, murder, make war, impose by force 
their grotesque religious and hideous criminal codes, then 
the comedy becomes a tragedy. And only the dramatist 
sees through it; all the rest, the Army, the Navy, the 
Church, and the Bar are busy bolstering up the imposture. 

475 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

The dramatic faculty is nothing more nor less than a 
little more than common forwardness in natural history, 
a little more than common freedom from illusion, or, to 
put it as the average dupe sees it, and as Ruskin flatly 
expressed it concerning Shakespeare, a little less than 
common conscience. ... If the playgoer could see the 
dramatist's mind, all the dramatists would be hanged, just 
as all the men and women of forty would be massacred 
by all the youths and maidens of twenty, if these young 
ones only knew." * 

The world-comedy, in Shaw's eyes, consists in the imag- 
inative self-delusion, the moralistic sophistication of man; the 
world-tragedy in the bankruptcy of what we delight in calling 
progress with a P. 

Progress, from Shaw's point of view, means increased com- 
mand over self; this lamentable desideratum is the cause of his 
scepticism. But let us observe the open-minded, clear-eyed 
consistency of Shaw. While heartily subscribing to the meta- 
physics of Schopenhauer, he yet as heartily refuses to accept 
his pessimistic philosophy. At one with Darwin and Huxley in. 
their scientific, realistic, yet anarchistic challenge of the va- 
lidity of Biblical theology, Shaw, by his deliberate rejection of 
their materialistic views, occupies the opposite pole of con- 
viction. It is useless to pretend to a " generation which has 
ceased to believe in heaven and has not yet learned that the 
degradation by poverty of four out of every five of its number 
is artificial," that the " pessimism of Koheleth, Shakespeare, 
Dryden and Swift can be refuted if the world progresses solely 
by the destruction of the unfit, and yet can only maintain its 
civilization by manufacturing the unfit in swarms of which that 
appalling proportion of four to one represents but the com- 
paratively fit survivors." To Shaw, progress means, not an 
effect of the survival of the fittest brought about by the de- 
struction of the unfit, but the growth of the spirit of man. 
He has refused to accept the Darwinian theory of evolution, 

* Who I Am, and What I Think, Part II., in The Candid Friend, May 
18th, 1901. 

476 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

since it " only accounted for progress at all on the hypothesis 
of a continuous increase in the severity of the conditions of 
existence — that is, on an assumption of just the reverse of 
what was actually taking place " — a fact which escaped Hux- 
ley. He finds in the world no signs of progress in the humani- 
tarian and ethical sense ; only a few more discoveries in physics. 
And even the much-trumpeted " increased command over na- 
ture," harnessing continents, circling the globe, and so on, 
as an argument for progress vanishes before the inevitable 
query as to whether a negro of to-day using a telephone is 
superior to George Washington. Shaw rails at the " theistic 
credulity " of Voltaire as he rails at the " tribal soothsayings " 
of Huxley. As he recently wrote me : "I have not escaped 
from a literal belief in the Book of Genesis only to fall back 
into the gross blindness of seeing nothing in the world but 
the result of natural selection operating on a chapter of acci- 
dents, which is popular Darwinism." 

In that most whimsical and witty essay, entitled, The Con- 
flict Between Science and Common Sense, Shaw declares that 
he has " found out " the man of science : " In future my atti- 
tude towards him will be one of more or less polite incredulity. 
Impostor for impostor, I prefer the mystic to the scientist — 
the man who at least has the decency to call his nonsense a 
mystery, to him who pretends that it is ascertained, weighed, 
measured, analyzed fact." In a sense, Shaw's part in the hu- 
manitarian campaign against vivisection, modern science gen- 
erally, vaccination, education, flogging, " cannibalism," and so 
on, are all part of his attitude as a " mystic." He has no 
faith in the scientist with his specious invitation : " My friend, 
by a diabolically cruel process I have procured a revoltingly 
filthy substance. Allow me to inject this under your skin, 
and you can never get hydrophobia, or enteric fever, or diph- 
theria, etc. I have even a very choice preparation, of unmen- 
tionable nastiness, which will enable you, if not to live for 
ever (though I think that quite possible), at least to renew 
in your old age the excesses of your youth." While the aver- 
age man, with incomprehensible credulity, jumps at the bait, 
Shaw refuses to be so easily duped. While science has taught 

477 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

him that dirt is " only matter in the wrong place," his own 
common sense has taught him that " disease is only matter in 
the wrong condition, and that to inject matter in the wrong 
condition into matter in the right condition (healthy flesh, to 
wit) is to put matter in the wrong place with a vengeance." 
In the public prints, in his novels and plays, notably, Cashel 
Byron's Profession and The Philanderer, Shaw has fulminated 
as vigorously against vivisection as against vaccination. 
From the first he perceived that the vivisector was "just the 
same phenomenon in science as the dynamiter in politics, and 
that to all humane men both methods of research and reform, 
effective or not, were eternally barred, precisely as highway 
robbery is barred as a method of supporting one's family." 
His persistent vegetarianism is not based upon a scientific in- 
quiry into the amount of hydrocarbons, uric acid, or what not 
deleterious stuff there may be in meat, but in his perfectly 
natural and humane distaste for the shedding of blood. " I 
have not the slightest doubt myself," he once said, " that a diet 
of nice tender babies, carefully selected, cleanly killed and ten- 
derly cooked, would make us far healthier and handsomer than 
the haphazard dinners of to-day, whether carnivorous or vege- 
tarian. . . . There is no objection whatever to a baby from a 
nitrogenous point of view. Eaten with sugar, or with beer, 
it would leave nothing to be desired in the way of carbon. My 
sole objection to such a diet is that it happens to be repugnant 
to me. I prefer bread and butter." Shaw's " three centuries " 
of life have taught him, mainly, to regard " men's principles 
as excuses for doing what they want to do." And in the moral 
sphere, he contends that " the world remains as dependent 
as ever on pure dogmatic, instinctive recoil from suffering on 
the one hand, and pure dogmatic, instinctive love of inflicting 
it on the other. Common to both these temperaments, and to 
the compound temperament in which they struggle for mastery, 
is the timid perception that society can only exist through a 
compact to live and let live. . . . All sorts of virtuously in- 
dignant persons, clamouring for all sorts of vulgar retalia- 
tions, from the kicking of a cad to the humiliation of a 
minister by an election defeat, are indulging the destructive in- 

478 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

stincts under cover of solicitude for the common weal, as un- 
mistakably as the scientist who, with a thousand humane 
departments of research open to him, deliberately prefers 
cruel experiments, and pleads that the man who ascertains how 
long it takes to bake a dog to death confers as great a boon 
on humanity as the man who discovers the Rontgen rays and 
their application to surgery. The cruel (loving to read the 
description of his experiments), the selfish (hoping for cures), 
the sportsman (anxious to be kept in countenance), and the 
cowardly (seeking an excuse for tolerating an evil they dare 
not attack) will accept his excuse: the humane will not. The 
final conflict is not between the excuses in their logical disguise 
of scientific arguments, but between the cruel will and the 
humane will." 

A leading cause for Shaw's " divine discontent " with 
progress, with moral systems, with institutions, with " regi- 
mentation," with flogging in the navy, vaccination, science, 
cannibalism, and a thousand other things, is his loss of faith 
in education. He has lost his illusions on the subject. Edu- 
cation and culture, he maintains, are for the most part " noth- 
ing but the substitution of reading for experience, of literature 
for life, of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real." 
He sees Masters of Art as " patentees of highly questionable 
methods of thinking, and manufacturers of highly question- 
able, and for the majority but half valid, representations of 
life." This is the natural attitude for one who said only the 
other day that " great communities are built by men who sign 
with a mark: they are wrecked by men who write Latin verses." 
The ruthless repression which we practise on our fellow crea- 
tures whilst they are still too small to defend themselves, he 
insists, ends in their " reaching their full bodily growth in a 
hopelessly lamed and intimidated condition, unable to conceive 
of any forces in the world except physically coercive and so- 
cially conventional ones." " Modern " education, he declares, 
" differs from Dr. Johnson's education only in substituting 
Jenner and Pasteur for Plato and Euripides as academic idols, 
and replacing the recognition of a purpose in the world, and 
the investigation of that purpose, by a conception of the uni- 

479 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

verse as the accidental result of a senseless raging of me- 
chanical forces, and by a boundless credulity, not outdone in 
dirt, cruelty, and stupidity, by any known savage tribe, as 
to the possibility of circumventing these forces by nostrums 
and conjurations." The hope of the world lies in the develop- 
ment of individuality and self-reliance. Real live learning 
would soon flourish on the boundless basis of human curiosity 
and ambition.* 

Bernard Shaw is not a materialist or natural selectionist, 
but in direct line of descent, astounding as the contrast may 
appear, from Schopenhauer, Lamarck and Samuel Butler. 
Shaw does not subscribe to the belief that goodness implies 
that " man is vicious by nature, and that supreme goodness is 
supreme martyrdom." A fundamental tenet of his philosophic 
faith is the conviction that " progress can do nothing but make 
the most of us all as we are." This conviction has more or 
less consciously animated him all through his career. Within 
his secret soul, Shaw has always cherished a radiant and 
gorgeous hope for humanity, always unconsciously trod the 
rainbow bridge from the real to the ideal. In his heart, he has 
whispered Ibsen's thought, " The expression of our own indi- 
viduality is our first duty." A dream of human perfectibility 
has lured him on : the dearest foe of this arrant realist has ever 
been — an ideal. As a youth he revelled in the Shelley of 
Prometheus Unbound; young manhood found him working 
upon the hypothesis of the Economic Man. In The Quintes- 
sence of Ibsenism, Shaw sang of the new man, the sovereign 
individual — in Nietzsche's phrase, " the possessor of a long in- 
frangible will, who has, in his possession, his standard of valua- 
tion." He had found out the impossibilities of anarchism 
before he came to Wagner; his clearer vision and enlarged 
horizon enabled him to realize that " the individual Siegfried 
has come often enough, only to find himself confronted with 
the alternative of government or destruction at the hands of 
his fellows who are not Siegfrieds." At last he began to 
realize that " it is necessary to breed a race of men in whom 

* Compare Does Modern Education Ennoble? by G. Bernard Shaw; in 
Great Thoughts, October 7th, 1905. 

480 ' 




Prince Paul Trouletzkoy."] {Courtesy of the FmJpft 

A PLASTER BUST OF SHAW. 

Made in forty minutes. 



{Facing p. -174 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

the life-giving impulses predominate before the New Protes- 
tantism becomes politically practicable." The matured form 
of his ideal is the ethical man, convinced of the bankruptcy of 
education and progress, inspired with the faith of the world- 
will, and resolved, not to adopt a new philosophy, but to develop 
and perfect the human species. " To rise above ourselves to 
ourselves " — that is the creed of the new faith, of the humani- 
tarian artificial selectionist concerned even more for the future 
of the race than for the freedom of his own instincts. Every 
phase in Shaw's career, it cannot be too strongly insisted upon, 
is the legitimate and logical outcome of his Socialism. His 
philosophy is the consistent integration of his empirical criti- 
cisms of society and its present organization, founded on au- 
thority and based upon Capitalism. And to the Socialist, 
nothing is necessary for the realization of Utopia but that man 
should will it. " Man will never be that which he can and 
should be," wrote Wagner, " until by a conscious following of 
that inner natural necessity, which is the only true necessity, 
he makes his life a mirror of nature, and frees himself from 
his thraldom to outer artificial counterfeits. Then will he first 
become a living man, who now is a mere wheel in the mechanism 
of this or that Religion, Nationality or State." The fact faced 
by the Shavian philosophy is that Man does not effectively 
will perfection. The quintessence of Shavianism is that " he 
never will until he becomes Superman." * 

The cardinal point in the New Theology as enunciated by 
Bernard Shaw is the identification of God with the Life Force. 
" There are two mutually contradictory ideas which cut across 
each other in regard to the relative powers of God and Man," 
Mr. Shaw once said to me in the course of a long discussion 
of his religious views. " According to the popular conception, 
God always creates beings inferior to Himself: the creator 
must be greater than the creature. I find myself utterly un- 
able to accept this horrible old idea, involving as it does the 
belief that all the cruelty in the world is the work of an 
omnipotent God, who, if He liked, could have left cruelty out 

* The substance of Shaw's philosophy — as, indeed, he once told me — 
is embodied in Act III. of Man and Superman. 

481 



GEORGE BERNARD SHAW 

of creation. If God could have created anything better, do 
you suppose He would have been content to create such mis- 
erable failures as you and me? 

" As a matter of fact," he continued, " we know that in all 
art, literature, politics, sociology — in every phase of genuine 
life and vitality — man's highest aspiration is to create some- 
thing higher than himself. So God, the Life Force, has been 
struggling for countless ages to become conscious of Himself 
— to express Himself in forms higher and ever higher up in 
the scale of evolution. God does not take pride in making a 
grub-worm because it is lower than Himself. On the contrary, 
the grub is a mere symbol of His desire for self-expression." 

To Bernard Shaw, the universe is God in the act of making 
Himself. At the back of the universe, according to his mystical 
conception, there is a great purpose, a great will. This force 
behind the universe is bodiless and impotent, without executive 
power of its own; after innumerable tentatives — experiments 
and mistakes — the force has succeeded in changing inert mat- 
ter into the amoeba, the amoeba into some more complex or- 
ganism; this again into something still more complex, and 
finally has evolved a man, with hands and a brain to accomplish 
the work of the Will. Man is not the ultimate aim of the Life 
Force, but only a stage in the scale of evolution. The Life 
Force will go still further and produce something more com- 
plicated than Man, that is, the Superman, then the Angel, the 
Archangel, and last of all an omnipotent and omniscient God.* 

Shaw has startled and shocked many people during his life- 
time by asserting vehemently that he was an atheist. f And so 
indeed he is, if orthodoxy connotes belief in the early- Victorian 
God of cruelty and barbarity — the Almighty Fiend of Shel- 
ley's characterization. The idea of God as a cruel Designer, 
vindictive in punishment of the unbeliever, then held full sway. 

* For the sake of making himself easily understood, Shaw frequently ex- 
presses his neo-theological conceptions in the familiar phraseology of 
orthodox religion. Shaw's practice of personifying God, when in reality he 
mentally identifies " God " with a mystical and impersonal " Force," is a 
practice which many people quite justly condemn. 

■\Cf. Shaw's open letter to G. W. Foote, in The Freethinker, November 
1st, 1908. 

482 



ARTIST AND PHILOSOPHER 

" Neither science on the one hand, nor the moral remonstrances 
of Shelley and his school on the other, were able to shake the 
current belief in that old theology that came back to the old 
tribal idol, Jehovah." Then came Darwin with his theory of 
natural selection, involving the corollary that all the opera- 
tions of the species can be accounted for without consciousness, 
intelligence or design. After rapturously embracing Darwin- 
ism for six weeks, Samuel Butler turned upon Darwin and rent 
him — he had discovered that Darwin had actually banished 
mind from the universe.* Butler saw clearly that natural 
selection had no moral significance, that it did away not only 
with the necessity for purpose and design in the universe, but 
actually with the necessity for consciousness. 

Philosophically and scientifically, Shaw derives directly from 
Schopenhauer, Lamarck and Butler. He recognizes purpose 
and will in the world because he is himself conscious of purpose 
and will. Woman brings children into the world, not for her- 
self or for her husband, but to fulfil the end in view of which 
the Life Force has created her. Man produces great works 
just as woman brings men into the world, with travail and 
pain ; man is continually engaged in doing things which do not 
benefit him. He works just as hard when there is no chance 
of profit as when there is. Shaw, then, is a confirmed Neo- 
Lamarckian in the view that " where there's a will there's a 
way." Just as Lamarck, with his theory of functional adapta- 
tion, virtually maintained that living organisms changed be- 
cause they wanted to, so Shaw believes that there is a purpose 
in the universe; identifies his own purp